Do you know what self-compassion is? Perhaps this sounds like a contradiction in terms. How can we have compassion for our self?
Compassion comes from the root words “com” and “pati,” which together mean “to suffer with.” Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” It is about allowing ourselves to be with the emotional discomfort of someone else’s suffering with the hope of lessening it. Most people naturally resist this discomfort, but feel empathy for another person’s distress. We all feel compassion; it is part of being human. How can we not have feelings toward another being that is suffering? Why can’t we offer that same kindness to our self?
The concept of self-compassion comes out of the Buddhist tradition of loving-kindness meditation where words wishing health, happiness, safety and peace to oneself and others are repeated as a meditation. These words are felt to create a benevolent connection to oneself and to the rest of the world as a force of good will.
Self-compassion amplifies this idea. Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD write about the three components of self-compassion. The first is self-kindness. This is just what it sounds like—being kind to yourself. This may sound simplistic, but our culture places emphasis on kindness to others, not to self. The second is common humanity. This is the idea that we are all in this great “world soup” together—we are all interconnected. Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as “interbeing.”
The third component is mindfulness. This is about paying attention on purpose and in the present moment without judgment. It is awareness of awareness. It is a means to experience each moment of our lives as it is happening—and to know we are experiencing it.
These three parts taken together can lead to increased resilience and well being, to an experience of wholeness and intimacy with all the parts of our life.
A human being is part of the whole called by us “universe,” a part limited by time and space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest—a
kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting
us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free
ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures
and the whole of nature in its beauty. Albert Einstein
Dr. Heather's musings about medicine, mindfulness and life.
Heather Krantz, M.D.
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