What? Self-compassion? As soon as you read the word, how many of you thought, “Sounds like some touchy-feely, mumbo jumbo phrase to make everybody feel better with really earning it”? That message is EXACTLY what society tells us to think. Our culture excels at teaching us to be critical, exacting, perfectionistic and to promptly lash into ourselves in any moment when we don’t live up to these impossible standards. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” “Don’t be a crybaby.” “Be all that you can be.” “Always do your best.” Sheesh, I feel my shoulders sagging under all this weight just by writing these messages out! It makes for an exhausting and harsh life when you adhere to such beliefs.
For us HSPs, we’re even more susceptible to taking what others teach us to heart and of reaaaally carrying the load of such messages. Let’s think more carefully about what these phrases teach us--if you don’t succeed all by yourself of your own doing, it’s YOUR fault. YOU are the failure. And, by god, if you fail or struggle, don’t you dare allow yourself to have normal human emotions about it! Stuff those feelings down, shake them off, pretend like they were never there. In every moment of every day in every thing you do, you better live up to your potential . . . or you’ve failed, again.
By this point, the idea of having some self-compassion might be sounding pretty good. (My heart is saying, “Yes, please!”) Kristin Neff, PhD and professor at the University of Texas at Austin has been studying this idea of self-compassion for nearly a decade and has written a book I highly recommend on the topic aptly called Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. I think pretty much all of us can benefit from practicing self-compassion and from implementing Neff’s teachings and exercises. (I emphasize the word “practice.” This is about an ongoing mentality of being kind to yourself . . . even when you fall into old habits or when you get frustrated or fed up with yourself--whaaat? :) )
Neff beautifully summarizes self-compassion on her website--“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we give to a good friend.” Such a simple idea and such a mindset shift from being a bully to ourselves.
I’ve found myself really resonating with Neff’s ideas and wanted to share my favorites that I am practicing.
In her book, Neff describes the “Three Doorways In” to self-compassion (p. 102). That is, when you’re in pain, you can do these things to be compassionate with yourself:
Give yourself kindness and care. This might look like telling yourself, “This really hurts! I’m sorry it’s so hard right now.” and then taking good care of yourself--a hot bath, a favorite movie, talking to a loved one, snuggling with a pet.
Remind yourself that pain is universal and part of the human experience. This might mean using that self-talk to say, “It’s ok. You’re not alone in going through this. It may feel really awful right now, but other people have and will get through this, and you will too.”
Hold your thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness. This step means noticing without fully buying into those thoughts and feelings, such as, “I’m having the thought that I failed” (verses saying “I am a failure”) or “I’m having the feeling of being really sad right now.” The most important and hardest part of this step is then letting the thought or feeling stay there until it passes. Because it absolutely will pass, no matter how certain you may be that it won’t. And, notice (with a huge sigh of relief) when it does pass.
Secondly, I love this mental refrain that Neff tells herself when she’s struggling:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need (p. 119).
May we all give ourselves kindness and compassion today.
(For more info about Neff’s work and resources, visit http://selfcompassion.org/)
Want to hear more about self-compassion or explore how being a HSP affects your life? Check out my online group just for HSPs--starting soon!