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May 18, 2023

The Power of Self-Compassion

by Liz Tampe, MSW, LCSW

When life feels overwhelming, do you tend to beat yourself up and tell yourself you SHOULD be able to handle life?  Does that make the feeling of overwhelm better or worse?

I know for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed I tend to add to the pain I’m experiencing by resisting what is happening. Self-compassion is the opposite of this.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is when you can hold the whole messiness of life in awareness and NOT fall into the pit of shame or self-condemnation.  It is when you can take a look at yourself in the mirror and accept yourself and your circumstances just as they are.  It doesn’t mean you like or approve of the pain you are in, but you allow it to be there for the present moment.  It is a simple practice, but not easy.

Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher.  She writes, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings- after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”  She has a website with lots of self-compassion practices including a short one called the Self – Compassion Break.

3 Steps to Self-Compassion

Step 1: Awareness

In this three step practice, the first step is to become aware of the suffering you are experiencing. In other words, acknowledge your pain.  This is important because it can be tempting to go into denial or undermine your own suffering by comparing it to others, especially when you are experiencing psychological pain. Try not to compare your suffering to anyone else’s.

Step 2: Normalizing

The second step is to say “Suffering is part of the human experience.” This is an important step because often when we are in pain we can often feel different and separate from the rest of the human race. If there is grief present, there can also be the temptation to go into self-pity or “woe is me” thinking, which is not healthy. Grieving is healthy but shame and self-pity are isolating and deadly.

Step 3: Nourishment

The third step is to offer yourself some nourishment in the form of affirmations or loving kindness. This is very difficult for those who are used to beating themselves up (those with a strong inner critic). It can feel very foreign at first, like empty words devoid of meaning.

Over time, however, as the practice becomes more familiar, it can be a comfort and it becomes more “accessible” to the psyche.  You may even notice that you are starting to believe that you are worth your own loving care and concern, and inner peace.  You may start to “fill your cup” with gentleness and connect to a place of deep worthiness that goes far beyond anything you thought possible.

If you are interested in learning more strategies about self-compassion, please reach out to our Behavioral Health team, so we can partner with you to support your health.

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