Mental Health · Women and Wellness

Women and Wellness: Developing Self-Compassion

What comes to mind when you think of this word: Compassion?

How about this one: Self-compassion?

If you’re like most women, you have a different emotional response to each word with a distinctly more negative response to the second. Perhaps we mistakenly equate self-compassion with selfishness, a trait strictly forbidden to women. Most of us habitually and unwittingly practice the opposite of self-compassion: self-criticism. If you are your own “worst enemy” in this regard, you are not alone. Perhaps the term self-compassion evokes some confusion; a vague sense that we should know what it means but, upon closer reflection, really don’t.

The construct of self-compassion originates from Buddhist thought, the source of many concepts that enrich the Western understanding and evolution of wellness and balance. Self-compassion is fundamentally different than selfishness because it includes feelings of self-acceptance based on a sense of shared humanity. Practicing self-compassion makes us kinder to ourselves and to others. Self- criticism is isolating. Self-compassion is connecting.

Self-compassion defined:

  • Being kind and understanding towards oneself in times of pain or failure
  • Perceiving one’s own suffering as part of a larger human experience
  • Holding painful feelings and thoughts in mindful awareness

Why It’s Important:

Self-compassion has been researched and consistently found to be related to well-being. Individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater life satisfaction, social connectedness, emotional intelligence, and happiness as well as less anxiety, depression, shame and fear of failure.

Ways to increase your self-compassion:

Remember that if self-compassion is a new concept for you, as it is for many, it will take time to learn and you’ll make mistakes. Being patient with yourself and the process gives you ample opportunity to actually practice self-compassion while you are learning self-compassion!

As you go through your day, try treating yourself as you would someone you really loved. Image how you would like to treat your spouse/partner, daughter/son, or best friend and treat yourself this way in all things.

When things go wrong, be careful not to automatically blame and criticize yourself. Do your best to acknowledge all factors including those not in your control. You especially need kindness after a set-back or failure.

Talk to yourself as you would a close friend. If you wouldn’t criticize a friend harshly, it doesn’t make sense to do this to yourself.

Learn the practice of mindfulness: Awareness of, attention to, and acceptance of the present moment including our emotional experience. Focus on learning to tolerate, acknowledge, label, and embrace thoughts and feelings rather than reacting to or avoiding them.

For more information:

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by C. Germer

Source: Barnard, L. K. & Curry, J. F. (2011). Self-Compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15(4), 289-303.