This is the most frequently asked question when new clients come to therapy or are looking for a therapist. Counselors work hard to answer this question based on their specialty and expertise, but arguably the most valuable component of therapy is the compassion each counselor brings to their sessions. Counselors work hard to create safe, judgment free spaces to help foster client growth and a big part of being able to help client’s grow is helping them understand and utilize self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is defined as giving yourself the same compassion that you would give others. One exercise that I use to help clients build awareness of how compassionate they are towards themselves is to write a letter to a loved one, family member, or friend that is struggling. The next time I see them I have them read the letter as if they had really written to themselves. A majority of the time individuals will admit they are not as nice to themselves as they are to the people they care about.
The elements of Self-Compassion:
There are several different components that make up self-compassion.
Self-kindness vs. Self-Judgement: When we treat ourselves with respect and warmth when dealing with stressful or anxiety provoking encounters, we are able to help foster a greater understanding and care for our own emotions. Individuals that engage in self-kindness acknowledge that life contains unavoidable difficulties and failures and they are caring towards themselves rather than critical and judgmental.
Self-criticism and judgement over time has become a staple in most individuals lives. We tend to be quick to point out our shortcomings and faults, and often can get stuck in thought spirals about what we could have done differently. This type of thought pattern can override self-kindness and create thought patterns where we treat ourselves with more criticism than compassion.
Common humanity vs. Isolation: As humans we are flawed, vulnerable and likely to impacted by the harsh realities we face on a daily basis. Acknowledging and accepting that you are not alone in your suffering can help lessen the feelings of isolation and aloneness. Self-compassion comes into play when we recognize that suffering and sadness are a part of the shared human experience and not something to be experienced alone.
Being compassionate to others does not mean that you pity them, it means you understand their pain, even when the situation is different from yours. When you expand your awareness beyond yourself, you allow yourself to connect and bond with others that have shared experiences.
Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: Mindfulness requires you to step back and take a non-judgmental look at oneself. Mindfulness focuses on an open and kind observation of all emotions, especially negative ones, to help put your suffering and distress into perspective. Mindfulness gives us the control to not be over-identified by our negative emotions and thoughts. It’s a lifestyle that focuses on stepping back and making the effort to be present in a situation. By practicing mindfulness, we are able to increase the amount of time we are in a mindful state making it easier to be aware and challenging of moments that arise that trigger negative emotions.
How Self-Compassionate are you?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to evaluate how self-compassionate you are. For a further in-depth questionnaire, you can check out self-compassion.org.
How often am I afraid I will do the wrong thing?
How often am I being self-critical about my thoughts and feelings?
Do I feel inadequate?
How easily am I intimidated?
The Importance of being Self-Compassionate towards yourself.
We are often our own worst critic. Many of us have that inner self critic that is constantly bullying and bombarding us with negative thoughts. Our inner self critic is fueled by modern day expectations to be efficient as possible and meet unrealistic standards. That collective pressure from both society and our inner self critic can easily become overwhelming. When we allow ourselves to have self-compassion, we can begin to identify our mistakes and work towards meeting standards that fit OUR values. We are human and we are prone to making mistakes; judging ourselves harshly for being human can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. By practicing self-compassion, you are allowing yourself to honor and accept your humanness. Let’s work together to increase self-compassion and implement new brain patterns that help remind ourselves that everyone has flaws, makes mistakes and there is no need to judge ourselves for being human.