Why is self-compassion worth developing?
We humans are peculiarly unhelpful to ourselves when life becomes difficult. We get into trouble either through our own condemning thoughts, or when relationships become hard to manage, or both. The standard reaction is to blame, either ourselves or the others 'How could I be so stupid!' 'It's not me, it's all the rest of them!' Blaming isn't very useful but can feel like a good short term measure to get us out of trouble. Kicking ourselves when were down may feel the only way through, but it simply isn't very wise, in fact, it often exacerbates problems. Do you find yourself with a never ending circle of thoughts running round and round in your head, feeling worse, not being able to resolve the issue?
Self-compassion is the antidote to rumination and self-attacking. It's the recognition that things are difficult (yes there is suffering here) combined with the sincere wish to alleviate it. You learn to treat yourself just as you would a dear friend who is in trouble, with kindness and understanding. However, this doesn't let us shirk responsibility for our actions or become amoral. The three aspects of self-compassion are: clearly seeing what is actually happening (mindfulness) plus the understanding that as a human, none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes (common humanity) combined with a wise response (kindness). It really isn't easy being human! Understanding this fact is the first step to a better relationship with ourselves and others.
It's quite likely that you know of, or have yourself, strong opinions about treating yourself with kindness. It is widely believed that this is the royal road to becoming big headed, with laziness and de-motivation quickly following on; or that this approach signals weakness and inability to cope. Kristin Neff the world's foremost researcher on self-compassion has shown that exactly the opposite is true (http://self-compassion.org/). Self-compassion motivates, makes us happier and more engaged, less depressed and anxious. People who develop self-compassion are more resilient and courageous, more able to cope with life's difficulties because they have a long term supportive and highly effective way of relating to themselves and hence others. Feeling connected rather than feelings of isolation, becomes the norm.
Learning to become more self-compassionate and understanding through the counselling process with a counsellor whose role, by definition, is to be non-judgemental and accepting, is inevitable to some degree. However, it's considerably more effective if you actively practice between sessions, day by day learning to respond wisely with self-compassion to what's happening, rather than with old and often painful, knee-jerk reactions. Mindful self-compassion, rather like mindful based stress reduction, is an eight-week course, scientifically proven to be of great benefit to those who take part. Immersion weekends and practice days as well as finding a Counsellor who will teach these practices, are all helpful ways to develop your own natural capacity to treat yourself a lot better than you are at the moment.
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About Barbara Boxhall
After twenty years of counselling, I trained and have become a highly qualified teacher of mindfulness and mindful self-compassion. I hold eight-week courses, weekends, practice days and short courses for the general public, for counsellors and for cancer patients. I also weave these skills together in my private counselling practice if asked for.