“Oh Gosh, I look awful today! My hair is a mess, my face is terrible, and this outfit is hideous.”
Unfortunately for Alicia, this self-deprecating conversation has become somewhat of a daily ritual. As she draws closer to her reflection, squinting her eyes to inspect the right side of her face, she can’t help but feel repulsed by the two zits straddling each side of her nose. Her mind wanders from her flawed complexion, to her matted hair, to her awkwardly fitting clothes, and all the difficulties she has already anticipated for the coming school day.
Society, parents, friends, and mentors always stress the importance of kindness. Often times we only associate the word kindness with the idea of helping others; a friend, the elderly, or somebody in need. However, there exists another type of kindness; one which is less frequently demanded of us, yet holds such profound value.
This type of kindness is the one we express towards ourselves, in what we refer to as self-compassion.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas in Austin, defines self-compassion as “a clear-sighted way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection.” It is the single most powerful tool in creating a greater sense of well-being.
The Three Components of Self-Compassion
Dr. Neff categorizes compassion in three main components. Lets identify these components and see how they would impact Alicia were she to embrace their message.
- Treat yourself with kindness. Relinquish harsh self-judgment and self-criticism.
If Alicia were to take this component of self-compassion and apply it to her situation she may see a strikingly different side to her daily dilemma. By embracing herself, flaws and all, and being gentle to herself, Alicia would be able to appreciate how beautifully her radiant skin glows, instead of fixating on the two tiny zits that take up a small, if even noticeable, fraction of her face. She would realize that the matted hair she sees in the mirror is naturally highlighted in many tones and falls perfectly to frame her face with but a single comb-through. The constant self-criticism she exhibited would be exchanged for positive and uplifting thoughts.
- Embrace the common humanity. What you feel is alien or “different,” is often precisely what connects you to others.
Using this element in her morning routine, Alicia would understand that she is not alone in her struggle, and that by isolating her problems, she is only inflicting greater harm to herself. If she were to go to school, she may shy-away from classroom activities, feeling embarrassed or inadequate about her appearance. However, were she to embrace the idea of common humanity, she may befriend another student whom she can recognize as facing a similar struggle.
- Practice mindfulness. Be in the present moment.
If Alicia were to practice mindfulness, she would look in the mirror and understand that her reflection is giving her pain, understand what is going on with her body, and know that despite these things, she still loves herself because her beauty emanates from a place which is not her body, and not her image.
By recognizing these components of compassion, Alicia will be able to treat herself with the same patience, understanding, and gentleness she would a dear friend who was hurting. In doing so, she will be able to contribute to her present and future state of well-being in a tremendously positive way.
More ideas for incorporating self-compassion into your life:
- Acknowledge that you are suffering, and practice open heartedness towards yourself.
- Soothe your pain in the wake of self-criticism by taking a minute out of your day to tell yourself that you are loved, and that despite your current afflictions, everything is okay.
- When you realize self-harming thoughts enter your mind, think of what you would say to your closest friend, were they to approach you with the same problems. Show yourself the same kind of love and compassion.
- Allow yourself to feel good and direct your thoughts and feelings to a happy place. People who have trouble with self-compassion often feel as though they do not deserve to feel good, that there is something wrong with being happy. The more you can do things that make yourself feel good, the more self-compassion you are showing towards yourself. When you are happy you have an increased sense of well being.
- Write yourself a note. Recognize the negative feelings you may be having, the ones you are aware of and the ones you have suppressed deep within. Forgive yourself for having felt this way, and write down all the wonderful qualities about you. Write the things that other people say they love in you- the things that make you special. Thank yourself for all that you are, all that you have accomplished, your hardships, failures, mistakes, emotions and actions.
Carry this note with you so that every time a negative emotion or situation arises in your life, you will have a little personal piece of compassion written by the person who loves you the most: you.
Neff, K. D., Rude, S. S., & Kirkpatrick, K. L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(4), 908-916.
Robbins, M. (2009) Be yourself everyone else is taken. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.