Imagine your best friend calls you in the evening one day. He says, “I just can't handle this particularly difficult challenge anymore! I am so overwhelmed…I just can’t take it.”
What is your response?
Is it some combination of: “C’mon you sissy!” “You’re a weakling if you can’t take this!” “Pull up your socks!” “Put on your big boy shorts”?
Chances are, you don’t respond any way like this. Most likely, you’ll have compassion for your best friend, hear him out, and respond with understanding, warmth, and kindness.
What does compassion mean?
Literally, compassion means “to suffer with”. So, having compassion for your friend is about, first, noticing that he is suffering, and secondly, feeling moved by his suffering that your heart responds to his pain. Rather than a judgmental response, your heart responds with kindness, warmth, and understanding. When you feel compassion for another, you recognize that suffering, failure, and imperfection are a part of the human experience and something that we all share.
But how do you respond to yourself when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and about ready to ‘lose it’? What is your inner dialogue saying?
Chances are, you respond to yourself with a few of the above harsh comments…and maybe even some more creative ones!
Why not try some self-compassion instead?
Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher and expert in self-compassion, says that:
“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself [as you do towards others] when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings…
“You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”
Dr Neff identifies 3 elements of self-compassion:
1) Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment - involves being warm and understanding towards ourself when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignore pain or beat ourselves with self-criticism
2) Common humanity vs. Isolation - involves seeing suffering as not something that happens only to “me” only; it happens to every person, to every human. Inadequacy and suffering is a shared human experience.
3) Mindfulness vs. Over-identification - involves taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that they are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. It comes from observing our emotions with openness and clarity so that they are held in mindful awareness, without judgment and without being swept away by our thoughts and feelings.
What is the benefit of self-compassion?
Well, there are many benefits, but the main one I’m going to highlight here is: big-time stress reduction.
When you practice self-compassion, your level of stress decreases, that’s because self-criticism, self-blame, self-flagellation create physiological chaos and disharmony inside of you, known and felt as stress. Conversely, compassion is a renewing emotion. It creates physiological harmony, felt as a sense of well-being.
Don’t believe me? I challenge you to practice self-compassion the next time you go through a difficult time, feel inadequate, or fail, and see how much less stress you experience.
Word of warning: when you begin practicing self-compassion, it may feel awkward, weird, “wrong”, and “stressful”. That’s simply because you are not used to it, like feeling the sun on your skin after living a lifetime in the dark.
Create less stress and more harmony and well-being in your life without quitting your job, getting a new house, or finding an isolated island to live on by working with us in a way that suits you. Find out what way suits you, here.
Here’s to conquering stress.
The Stress Experts
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