Let’s be honest: life is hard. In fact, the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism makes clear that suffering is inevitable. Humans endure loss and experience medical issues, pain, loneliness, rejection and disappointment, to name a few of the challenges we experience. The good news is that struggle can frequently serve as a predecessor to growth. How someone responds to suffering can make a positive out of what might seem like a negative.

While humans have an amazing ability to be empathetic to others during their times of need, they can also be very hard on themselves. Despite not expecting others to be perfect, people frequently seem to hold themselves to different standards. They expect perfection from themselves and their lives and feel hurt and shame when it can’t all be perfect. This can also make them feel apart from others, whom they believe are doing much better than them. Arguably, the greatest tragedy of this response is the amount of time and internal resources people use to tear themselves down instead of building themselves up. It is no wonder why people sometimes go to great lengths to avoid their thoughts and feelings.

Self-compassion is an attitude of warmth and understanding we can have towards ourselves during times when we’re struggling. Having self-compassion means being able to engage yourself in a way that’s nurturing, comforting and loving when things aren’t going well. Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin has been studying self-compassion for decades. She breaks down self-compassion into three components:

  • Self-kindness
  • Common humanity
  • Mindfulness (2003)

According to Neff, to practice self-compassion individuals need to extend kindness and understanding to oneself, see their experiences as part of the larger human experience, and hold their painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them. The good news is that practice can help improve self-compassion.

Remember to be patient with yourself. You’re trying to change a pattern of “negativity bias” that is hard-wired into the human brain. Change takes practice and time, but you’re worth it!

Neff, K., (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

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