If we allow it, the spectrum of emotions can be widely felt and expressed. Many of us, and perhaps most of us who are reading and researching the practice of self compassion, have a tendency to hold on to the negative and heavy emotions of our life’s experiences. As kids, criticism is often a tool our parents used to get us to engage in behavior change, and it’s one we emulate and continue to use in our relationships as we continue to grow and mature.
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
This criticism that was once handed to us from our parents and/or caregivers may have been successful in changing unwanted behavior in the moment, but it also has unseen effects as we allow it to become our internal dialogue. Constantly judging and shaming ourselves when we make a mistake or don’t win. When we are confronted with failure we see it as a negative, a way for us to bounce unworthy or “less than”, rather than see that failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Welcome, self-compassion. A topic and practice that has been researched extensively over the past decade. In its simplest terms, self compassion is the practice of being kind to ourselves. When practicing self-compassion, you talk to yourself with love and kindness as you would a child, best friend, or other loved one. You stop judging and evaluating yourself through a negative or critical lens.
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self -compassion mean s you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings”
– Kristin Neff
Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, has found that there are three elements to this practice:
- Self kindness (vs. self judgment)
- Common Humanity (vs. isolation)
- Mindfulness (vs. over identification)
When we treat ourselves with kindness, we give ourselves the courage and motivation to change what isn’t working – to stop trying to lead change through criticism, judgment, and negative self-talk. With time and consistent practice, we start trading in feelings of worry, self-limiting beliefs, and anxiety for feelings of calm, trust, and security. We gradually stop operating from a place of fear and unworthiness. We learn to respond to painful experiences, rather than react. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need others to respond with care and compassion in order to feel worthy of love – we can give that care and compassion to ourselves.
The practice of compassion is relational. None of us are free from mistakes, failures, and hardships. We will all move through experiences that shape us and the way we view ourselves and the world. It’s easy to swing towards the polarities of completely surrendering our control of situations, or doing everything in our power to control what’s going on around us. One thing self-compassion teaches us is that we can control the way we view and respond to challenges and hardships, and use our experiences as a way to connect to our authentic selves and to others. When someone comes to us with their grief or heavy emotions, we can empathize and show compassion because we have moved ourselves through experiences that have evoked similar emotions. We learn that self-compassion shows us how expansive our hearts are, and compassion is a way to open our hearts and welcome others. We allow ourselves to feel connected with others through the experience of life rather than isolated by our individual suffering.
As mentioned before, it’s easy (and often a natural and biological response) to swing towards the polarities of either completely surrendering our control of situations, or doing everything in our power to control what’s going on around us. Self-compassion invites us to be aware of what’s happening in our experiences and ask what it is we need in order to respond without judgment or malice towards ourselves or others. Oftentimes the practice of Mindfulness and Meditation can foster compassion.
As you lean into the practice of self-compassion, remember that curiosity is the engine of growth when deepening our relationship with yourself. If you can apply your own salve, self-love, and self-care, rather than look externally can lead to a life of connection and love. The quality of the relationship you have with yourself is reflected in everything around you.
If you are interested in learning more about the practice of self-compassion, check out My Vinyasa Practice’s 200-hour online yoga teacher training, voted the best online yoga teacher training internationally.