Compassion is an integral element of mindfulness and emotional intelligence.
It involves being concerned for the pain and suffering of others, having the desire to reduce that suffering and taking action, at whatever level, to redress the suffering of others. Taking action is a key aspect that differentiates compassion from empathy.
Self-compassion, then, is exercising compassion towards ourselves – ultimately, it means doing things to reduce our own self-initiated pain and suffering.
As we mentioned in a previous post, our minds tend automatically towards negative thoughts. We are critical of ourselves, dwell on failures, feel embarrassed when we make a mistake and carry shame with us to our own detriment and that of others.
Diana Austin, in her doctoral study of midwives in New Zealand, found, for instance, that the sense of shame and self-blame impacted severely the ability of midwives to recover from the trauma of critical incidents. Her study resulted in an e-book tool designed to promote self care and kindness towards self in the event of a health professional experiencing a critical event.
The Critical Incidents E-Book contains stories, information and practical advice for health professionals and their managers when mistakes happen and things go wrong. In the final analysis, the e-book is a journey into self-compassion for those experiencing the depths of self-blame, shame and questioning of their own competence and ability to support others professionally.
Kristin Neff, one of the founders of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, identified three components of self-compassion:
- physical warmth
- gentle touch
- soothing vocalization
In her video describing these three components, Kristin suggests a number of self-compassion practices that draw on these components. For example, she recommends self-hugging and a simple exercise involving placing your hands over your chest while communicating care and tenderness towards yourself.
More detail on these self-compassion exercises can be found in the video below where Kristin Neff describes exactly how to do them:
As you grow in mindfulness you become more aware of self-criticism and the ways in which you blame yourself, and you gain the presence of mind to counter these self-initiated attacks on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Mindful self-compassion exercises build mindfulness and develop self-care and kindness. The more we are kind to ourselves, the more sensitive we become to the needs of others.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
Image source: Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay