Mindfulness Self-Compassion Explained
What is mindfulness?
It may seem like you are hearing the word “mindfulness” thrown around in various contexts, but what does it really mean? Mindfulness refers to being aware of the present moment, including noticing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations when they occur. Mindfulness includes accepting the present moment for what it is, and approaching these thoughts, feelings, and sensations from a non-judgmental standpoint.
What is self-compassion?
Let’s face it – life can be hard. Difficult emotions such as grief, worry, and fear are all part of the human experience. Oftentimes, we do everything we can to avoid experiencing these difficult feelings. Research has shown that the more we try to suppress certain emotions, the stronger those emotions become.
What happens when, instead, we show ourselves compassion? Self-compassion means treating ourselves with love and kindness. It involves validating our feelings and experiences instead of trying to fight back against them or change them. Self-compassion allows us to accept our humanness and validates what we are experiencing.
We can show ourselves self-compassion in a variety of different ways. Whether we offer ourselves a soothing touch, such as placing our hands over our heart or giving ourselves a gentle hug, or offer ourselves words of love and kindness, self-compassion is a unique journey for everyone.
What self-compassion is not
We often have a tendency to mistake treating ourselves with compassion as being selfish, weak, or engaging in self-pity – in reality, it is quite the opposite. Research shows that individuals who have greater self-compassion are actually able to be more caring and supportive to others. Self-compassion is a sign of inner strength, courage, and resilience to overcome life’s challenges – which is anything but weak.
Self-pity places focus on the individual, whereas self-compassion recognizes that everyone goes through difficult times. Engaging in self-compassion can help to feel more connected to others and focus on commonality, instead of feeling isolated in our problems.
The three pillars of mindfulness self-compassion
Mindfulness self-compassion comprises three main elements: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. Mindfulness, as we discussed previously, consists of being aware and accepting of the present moment. Common humanity reminds us that we are all imperfect human beings, and that difficult emotions are a part of being human. It allows us to feel a greater sense of universality in what we are experiencing. Self-kindness encourages us to give ourselves grace and treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion that we would give to a dear friend.
Reframing the body’s stress response with mindfulness self-compassion
Applying the three pillars of mindfulness self-compassion can be an effective approach to downregulate our body’s stress response, commonly referred to as fight, flight, or freeze. The purpose of our body’s stress response is to keep us safe from danger, both physical and psychological. When this stress response is triggered by a threat to our self-concept, the body’s stress response is turned inward causing us to engage in self-criticism (fight), isolation (flight), or rumination (freeze). When we practice self-compassion, engaging in self-kindness instead of self-criticism, identifying common humanity instead of isolating, and practicing mindfulness instead of rumination, we are activating the care system, which allows for a release of oxytocin and endorphins, two hormones responsible for creating feelings of comfort and safety. Practicing mindfulness self-compassion helps us gain the ability to self-soothe, which then allows us to feel more regulated in situations where emotions may be heightened.
How we talk to ourselves can have a huge impact on our emotional well-being. The three pillars of mindfulness self-compassion can help us engage in more validating self-talk.
Mindfulness can help us approach our problems without judgment. The next time you are experiencing a stressful situation, try saying to yourself “this is a moment of suffering” or “this hurts.” By doing so, you are not trying to fight your feelings about the situation, but instead, acknowledging that these feelings exist.
Next, practice common humanity. Try saying to yourself “everyone experiences these feelings” or “this is how people who are struggling feel.” By doing so, you may experience a greater sense of connectedness and feel less alone in what you are going through.
Lastly, give yourself some words of love and kindness, such as “may I be strong” or “may I give myself grace.” You have the ability to tell yourself exactly what you need to hear at the moment. We tend to offer kind words and support to our family and friends, and now is the chance to turn that kindness and support inwards and offer it to yourself.
Engaging in mindfulness self-compassion can improve your emotional well-being and allow you to lead a more fulfilling life. You, just like everyone else in this world, are worthy of love and compassion.
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