Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect and experiencing life difficulties are inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. When this reality is denied or fought against, stress, frustration and self-criticism increase. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced. Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if ‘I’ were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The definition of being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. Self-compassion also requires a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from relating personal experiences to those of others suffering, thus putting our situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions openly and clearly so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it simultaneously. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be over-identified with thoughts and feelings so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.


Part of self-compassion for me is gratitude for myself, others and what I have in my life. We tend to place gratitude in a conditional place of appreciation.  For example, gratitude that says, ‘I am grateful I can walk up this hill’ may have the hidden self-criticism of ‘But I want to be able to walk up a mountain.’ Or ‘I am grateful for having Mary in my life’ may have a subtle agenda of ‘But I wish she wouldn’t keep phoning me.’

There are windows of insight in my week when I am mindful to stop and give thanks for all that I am, all that I have and the wisdom, maturity and understanding to connect to know that.  On other occasions, I reflect on all the little blessings in my day that I have – the kettle to fill with water for a hot drink, the healthy function of my legs to walk in the park, having a park nearby at all, the freedom to go for a walk, my ability to take a deep breath and food in the fridge.  However, as a human being, I sometimes forget everything in this paragraph, bringing me back to self-compassion.

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