Being compassionate towards others is something most of us can do fairly well. It’s a natural impulse to want to help others who are in physical or emotional pain. Recognizing others’ misfortunes and doing something to help–or at least wishing there were something we could do–can also improve our own well-being. As it turns out, practicing compassion, like doing a random act of kindness, giving to others, or donating to a good cause, can ignite the brain’s “pleasure centers” just as much as receiving! Performing good deeds helps others, and it makes us feel good in the process.
While most people would agree that treating others with care and understanding is a good thing, we often pay less attention to how we treat ourselves! This is where self-compassion or self-kindness comes in. In essence, self-compassion is treating yourself like you would treat a friend or loved one. When we have compassion, we acknowledge that someone else is suffering: we feel for others who are going through hard times. When we apply this concept inward, that is, when we have self-compassion, we are kind and nurturing to ourselves (even when we have failed or feel like we are inadequate).
The Elements of Self-Compassion
According to Kristin Neff, PhD, leading researcher in the field, self-compassion involves practicing self-kindness, engaging in mindfulness, and acknowledging common humanity.
1. Self-kindness involves being understanding and kind to yourself when you suffer, fail, or feel like you aren’t measuring up in some way.
Treat yourself like you’d treat a friend (especially in difficult times).
2. Mindfulness refers to paying attention to the world around you and noting (but not judging) your range of emotions, from feeling delighted to frustrated to curious or sad.
Be aware of how you are feeling and acting towards yourself.
3. Common humanity relates to remembering that everyone else suffers, fails, and feels like they don’t measure up at some point. Take comfort in the idea that we all go through the ups and downs of life together.
Remember that others have gone through similar situations.
Self-compassion is an emerging practice that offers a range of health benefits, including decreased stress and increased resilience. While simple in theory, it can be very hard to practice self-kindness. Often, we don’t even realize how deeply ingrained our negative self-talk might be. As such, it can be helpful for adolescents to learn to recognize when they might be hard on themselves, self-critical, and feel like they are all alone in their suffering.
Practices in Self-Kindness That Boost Wellbeing:
- Journaling: The practice of writing down feelings and thoughts and noticing the small moments that go well, including one’s own efforts at self-care, can reduce stress and improve health over time.
- Practicing Gratitude: Being appreciative and thankful for both the ordinary and extraordinary experiences each day can help boost mood and minimize common habits like complaining or negative thinking.
- Loving Kindness Meditation: Using visualization to direct loving and tender thoughts to oneself, as you might wish for a friend or loved one, is a great way to practice self-care.
- Building in Positive Activities: Because daily hassles of life can build up easily, it is important to schedule time for activities that bring pleasure and relaxation. Of course following through is key, too!
- Seeking Social Support: Reaching out to trusted people and those who understand particular struggles is instrumental in helping people feel connected. People who have solid social support, even if just from a select few friends, peers, or family members, experience better health outcomes than those who are isolated or feel alone.
Seeking social support is also key to the third element of self-compassion theory: common humanity. In other words, all humans go through good times and bad. We are all in this together. It can be helpful for children and teenagers to understand this, as developmentally they tend to see themselves in the center of their world (parents, can you relate?). But when they get social support by connecting with others who are experiencing similar issues, they can see that they are not alone, and they can offer support in return.
The same goes for parents! Seeking support from other parents and being kind to yourself in challenging times can help ease the stress or frustration that can come with care-taking. This can be good role modeling as well.
© Kiosea39 |