“The recognition and clear seeing of suffering…feelings of kindness for people who are suffering, so that the desire to help – to ameliorate suffering – emerges… recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is.” – Kristen Neff’s definition of compassion
Two leading researchers in the field of self-compassion, Paul Gilbert and Kristen Neff, have found that kindness is one of the most important elements to improving your mental health.
According to Neff, the main elements of compassion are recognizing suffering, understanding pain is universal, moving towards the alleviation of suffering, and showing kindness. Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves when we are in pain, suffering, or having a hard time.
Compassion is linked to the love hormone, oxytocin, which shows up when we feel close to someone or something and feel bonded to those around us. For example, when you play with your pet or child, oxytocin is released. This same love hormone can be released when we are self-compassionate or kind to ourselves.
We cannot talk about self-compassion without talking about self-criticism. How many of us are hard on ourselves when things do not go the way we anticipated, when we cannot be perfect, or when we are perceived to have failed? We all do it. We have been conditioned to use self-criticism as motivation to be better; however, it often has the opposite effect.
How do you speak to yourself in moments when you think you failed? How do you feel afterward? What would it be like for you to speak to yourself with words of kindness and compassion instead of criticism and judgment?
How do we move from self-criticism to self-compassion? Taking care of yourself is one of the most important ways to practice self-compassion. Self-soothing or using your senses to calm your mind and body is a helpful starting point. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Make a nice meal or snack for yourself
- Go out for a nice meal or snack
- Enjoy a favorite drink (non-alcohol)
- Go to a favorite cafe
- Enjoy a meal outside
- Meet with a friend for coffee, lunch, a walk, etc.
- Phone a friend to chat
- Take a walk in lovely surroundings
- Look at beautiful art or scenery
- Go to a beautiful place
- Enjoy time in the sunshine
- Go to the beach
- Light a candle
- Watch the stars
- Put on soothing or enjoyable music
- Enjoy the sounds of nature
- Use a favorite perfume or lotion
- Enjoy the smells of nature or flowers
- Have a bubble bath or long shower
- Do some slow breathing
- Have a massage or pamper yourself
- Do your nails
- Read a good book or magazine
- Watch a good movie or TV show
- Pet your animal
- Do some relaxation or mindfulness activities
- Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. William Morrow: NY.
- Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. Constable: London, UK.