The Power of Self-Compassion

October 03, 2021

A girl wearing a grey knitted sweater is blurry and she has her hand stretched out and is holding a red heart. The heart is the only thing in focus.

Self-compassion advocate Kristin Neff, says "In order to be truly self-compassionate – in order to be whole – we need to integrate both sides of self-compassion, the fierce and the tender". 

I always say that our emotions are our personal GPS to let us know how we’re feeling at any given moment. When I experience difficult emotions like sadness, fear, shame, confusion, or disappointment, I used to get overwhelmed. 

I would tell myself that I shouldn’t feel anger and frustration at being a caregiver. This is so unhealthy. One of the most powerful aspects of tender self-compassion is the ability to hold our difficult emotions with spaciousness and warmth, so we aren't so overwhelmed.

Self-compassion involves treating ourselves kindly, like we would a good friend we care about. Rather than continually judging and evaluating ourselves, self-compassion involves generating kindness toward ourselves as imperfect humans and learning to be present with the inevitable struggles of caregiving with greater ease. 

As caregivers, it can motivate us to make needed changes in our lives not because we’re worthless or inadequate, but because we care about ourselves and the person for whom we’re caring.

The power of self-compassion includes many benefits. First, we can become aware of what we're feeling.  We simply note what emotions are present, meaning we don't ignore them, but neither are we completely absorbed by them.

Second, it helps to become aware of our emotions as a physical sensation in our bodies. There's a reason we call them feelings, because all emotions have a physical as well as mental component. By working with our difficult emotions in our bodies, we make contact with them in a way that means we're less likely to be carried away by the storyline driving them.

Third, we can soften our bodies around the feelings so that we're holding them less tightly and more tenderly.

Fourth, we can soothe and comfort ourselves because we are hurting.  This may involve placing a gentle hand on the place in our bodies where we're experiencing the painful feeling, and also saying words of kindness and support.

Finally, we can try to simply allow our difficult emotions to be there.  Given that fighting and resisting our difficult emotions usually makes them worse and last longer - what we resist, persists - letting go of our resistance means that they are freer to express naturally and fade away at their own pace.

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