Why I think self compassion is the most important practice for well-being.

I’ve been taking a course in self compassion . After the first week of practice, I recognised the value in it.

Many people consider self compassion to be drippy. After all, we’re British. Stiff upper lip and all that. Just get on with it and do it for lower wages but twice the effort.

Isn’t it interesting how in a difficult situation, a natural disaster or catastrophe of some kind, people will run to help those worse off than themselves, even complete strangers? If a loved one or a good friend is upset, you will drop everything to support them. So what is wrong with giving yourself that same help and support?

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong. It’s going to make me feel sorry for myself and that’s just pathetic.” No it’s not. Kristen Neff who created the course with her colleague Chris Germer, is a researcher in self compassion. She has found that in actual fact, self compassion makes you stronger and more resilient.

I know the ‘American’ way can seem a bit soppy, but I’m telling you it works! Putting a hand over your heart and verbally acknowledging pain or suffering feels supportive. Recognising that you are not alone in your suffering; that many other people suffer in similar ways enables you to accept your suffering as part of the human condition. It’s common, it’s normal. Everybody suffers. Sadly, all too often we bring it upon ourselves. That may be hard to hear but in the Mindfulness and Yoga class, we wrote a list of common behaviours that cause suffering and it was long! We recognised just how often we cause our own suffering through negative or critical thinking, using unkind words towards ourselves and others or harming ourselves by striving too much, being overly competitive or pushing too hard.

When you acknowledge that you are suffering by saying phrases such as “I feel your suffering,” or “I know it hurts,” or “it’s okay, I understand,” you soften towards yourself. If you then act more kindly towards yourself by using soothing practices such as a gentle touch or caress, giving yourself a hug, using kind words, thinking kind thoughts or using warmth as comfort, you find yourself calming down and generally feeling more positive.

Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start by being kinder to yourself because once you are, you will find that kindness towards others is easier too. You have more time for others because you are taking care of your own well-being. What we put out into the world, we receive back. So if you are feeling unloved for example, love yourself and others will be more likely to love you in return. If we are all self compassionate, we could change the world!

I may have said this before, but I read an article that spoke about self care as being more than a bubble bath, or having your nails painted or getting an adrenaline buzz. These actions might help in the short term, but self care begins with self compassion, because it’s only when you feel loved and cared for, that negative thinking, speaking and behaviour can change. It’s all about brain chemistry…

I’m not saying that changing is easy, because I know it isn’t. But it really helps to try!