At H3 we talk a lot about self-compassion. We realize that there are still many people who confuse self-compassion with self-pity – but the truth is, self-compassion and self-pity are very different emotions that have an equally different impact on our emotional wellness. Here’s why…
Individuals who are feeling self-pity are sometimes so immersed in their problems that they lose their sense of empathy and understanding for others. They have trouble gaining perspective and being able to pull back from their situation to see the possibilities. Feeling isolated, they stop connecting and often intensify their difficulty with actions that further separate them from opportunities that could help them.
Feeling self-compassion, on the other hand, isn’t isolating and doesn’t tend to intensify problems. In fact, self-compassion, naturally brings us closer to others because it reminds us that we aren’t alone in the problems we face. One of our favorite authors, Kristin Neff, defines self-compassion as being made up of three core components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. It is helpful to explore these three components to better understand why.
Nearly everyone that comes to us for help is experiencing criticism in their lives. While we most often associate the experience of criticism as coming from another person in our lives (a parent, a boss, a teacher, a mate), the harshest critiques most often come from within ourselves. When we choose self-kindness, we learn to be gentle, caring and patient with ourselves, realizing that being harsh rarely results in improving our lives or the situation we are facing.
It is common to feel alone, especially when we are suffering. When we recognize that there are others facing the same or very similar challenges, it eases the sense of isolation we feel, gives us an awareness of the possibilities and often connects us to important resources. When we find a safe environment to read, listen or talk to others about topics that are sensitive, our thinking expands and our behavior often changes. Experiencing a sense of hope combined with new ideas on how to move forward can help us shift into a happier, healthier emotional state.
When we are harsh with ourselves, we frequently are focusing on something that happened in the past (recent or long ago) or could happen in the future (later today or years from now). In both cases, we are not focused on the present and what is happening right here, right now. Mindfulness is a practice that keeps us in the present and focused on what is immediately happening. Being fully present can reduce (and even suspend) worry and regret. Staying present and being mindful of our lives from moment to moment is a much gentler and kinder way of living and its direct impact on our emotional health is easy to identify.
Being compassionate with yourself isn’t always easy, especially if being harsh with yourself has become a habit, but it isn’t self-pity. Unlike self-pity, self-compassion is empowering and can significantly help you through those hard times when you question yourself and your life experiences. Being a friend to another is a gift and so is being a friend to yourself.