What does it mean to be self-compassionate and kind? Compassion allows us to show love, empathy, and a concern for others, especially to those experiencing difficulties in life. Kindness is all about the quality or state of being kind and treating people with respect.
It’s important to have compassion, not only to show to others but also for yourself. When you are compassionate you are moved by other people’s struggles. You may have compassion for that homeless person on the street or even feel moved by other people’s pain and suffering.
Compassion allows you to feel warm inside and it gives you that ability to care.
Self-compassion is no different. It involves responding in the same supportive and loving way that you would support a good friend in a difficult time. Being self-compassionate involves extending that same compassion back toward yourself, but it’s not always easy.
Like anything in life, offering compassion and kindness to ourselves takes practice. There is a great need to cultivate self-compassion and kindness, especially in our modern society where we lack it most.
Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research on self-compassion. According to her research, there are three elements to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness versus self-judgment;
- Common humanity versus isolation; and
- Mindfulness versus over-identification.
Self-Kindness Versus Self-Judgment
The first element, self-kindness versus self-judgment, means accepting and realising that none of us are perfect. Being self-compassionate means recognising that you are imperfect and vulnerable. It also means recognising the fact that we all experience difficulties and pain in life. When you are self-compassionate, you are gentle with yourself. When life throws you a curveball, you acknowledge it and can move through it in a compassionate way and with a large dose of kindness.
If you fight this reality and get angry or frustrated instead, you end up criticising yourself and experiencing a greater amount of emotional pain.
Common Humanity Versus Isolation
The second element, common humanity versus isolation is all about realising and recognising that all humans suffer. You are not alone. Humans are vulnerable, imperfect, and mortal, according to Neff. Having that sense of inadequacy is a part of the experience of being human.
When you develop self-compassion you fully acknowledge and accept that everyone experiences pain and suffering, and it is not something that only happens to you.
Mindfulness Versus Over-Identification
The third element, mindfulness versus over-identification, is about taking a more balanced approach when it comes to negative emotions and experiences. It’s about finding that perfect balance between suppression and exaggeration.
When you are mindful, you can view the negative emotion and experience with an open mind, and with a sense of clarity. Mindfulness allows you to be non-judgmental, and much more open and receptive when observing your thoughts and feelings.
It’s not about ignoring or suppressing the pain, but about learning how to gently observe it and move through it.
Taking a Self-Compassion Break
There are ways to develop a greater sense of self-compassion. One good way is by taking a self-compassion break. Doing so allows you to shift your awareness and step into the present moment more fully. It allows you to gently experience the pain without getting caught up in it.
When you do this, you shift your awareness and strengthen your neural circuitry, which helps recondition your mindset.
3 Steps to Taking a Self-Compassion Break
Step One: Put Your Hand on Your Heart
When you feel a surge of difficult or challenging emotions such as contempt, remorse, shame, or anger, stop and put your hand on your heart. This activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety, and trust.
Step Two: Empathise with Your Unique Experience
Recognise the suffering by saying something like “Yes, this is painful” or “Yes, this is scary!”
Step Three: Repeat These Phrases (or a Variation of These Phrases) to Yourself:
- "May I be kind to myself in this moment";
- "May I accept this moment exactly as it is";
- "May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment”.
Taking these steps may seem like a simple (or even silly) thing to do, but you might be surprised at how well it works.
Kindness and compassion are also wonderful resources for developing resilience. The more you recognise and accept those negative experiences and the more you acknowledge the pain, the better you will feel.
Instead off trying to avoid the pain or difficult emotions that you feel, thereby pushing the pain or the experience deeper down, you can process it and let it go.
Kindness and Self-Compassion as a Way of Being
When you live in this way, you begin to experience and explore self-compassion as an ongoing way of being. You begin to empathise more with others, and you will also show more compassion and loving-kindness towards yourself.
Kindness is all about being:
- Gentle and warm.
Being kind to yourself and others doesn’t mean you are naïve or weak and it requires a great amount of courage and strength. Kindness is a wonderful interpersonal skill to develop.
When you develop kindness and compassion you full-heartedly celebrate other’s successes. Kindness also requires you to be gentle with others, even if doing so is a little painful.
11 Tips for Being Kinder
1. Practice being grateful for what you have and don't take things for granted;
2. Start the day by voicing small expressions of gratitude such as "I am grateful for this beautiful day";
3. Minimise judgements - resist the urge to judge yourself or others;
4. Curb the criticism and try encouraging someone instead;
5. Strive to see all points of view, especially those you don't agree with;
6. Make positive observations about others instead of focusing on what annoys you;
7. Pay it forward by remembering those small gestures that you can do for others such as opening a door or letting someone ahead of you in traffic;
8. Remind yourself every day to be kind and compassionate, even if you have to use a post-it note on the fridge or next to your computer;
9. Remember a time when you expressed kindness to others and try to revisit those warm, happy feelings that you felt;
10. Take the high road by setting boundaries and saying "no" where you need to. Unnecessary conflict drains you of both time and energy; and lastly
11. Be kind to yourself.
The kinder and more compassionate you are to yourself, the kinder and more compassionate you will be to others. Kindness and compassion are contagious. The more you add to that pool of kindness and compassion, the more that kindness and compassion will spread like ripples in a pond.