Self-Compassion: An Internal Urgency

It is only by remembering that we are not alone in our mistakes and suffering, we connect ourselves to other

Credits: Marvin Meyer

March 14, 2022

As consumers of content in the 21st century, we’re slowly picking up the skill of consuming information consciously. We’ve learnt to set timers on our phones that tell us when we’ve exceeded our Twitter minutes for the day, we’re following mental health professionals on Instagram, we’re reading articles on improving our lifestyle, and much more.

Most of these measures point upward, that is, they help the reader navigate the route to growth. There is no denying that we live in a world that places excessive emphasis on ‘climbing up the ladder,’ whether it is personal, or professional.

The question really is, what about the skillset required to nurse ourselves back to normalcy when we fall down the ladder, or can’t move? While we can’t change all of society in one go, we can manage what we consume, how we can be kinder to ourselves, and learn why it’s essential. As always, we at JIBS are here to aid you in your journey. Our obsession with growth has led to us exposing ourselves to a wealth of information that credits self-esteem as a key element in the process of achieving our personal and professional goals. While this is important, more attention must be paid to our treatment of ourselves when we don’t meet our own expectations

Often when we encounter failure, whether big or small, the harshest criticism we receive is our own. Self-criticism can be cyclical. It can make us feel further less capable of meeting our goals, and can also encourage procrastination; thereby eating into our time and keeping us from being back on track

How do we counter self-criticism then?

The answer lies in replacing it with self-compassion, which Neff terms as a “compassion directed inward, relating to ourselves as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering.” Neff also adds that self-compassion has three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Most of us may admit that we’re kinder to others than to ourselves, as also reported by many behavioural studies. Self-kindness is simply the acknowledgment and practice of talking to ourselves as we would to a dear friend.

This can take many forms, for different people, such as noticing our harsh internal monologue, and replacing it with gentler phrases; or writing a letter to ourselves, as we would to a close friend. Common humanity encourages us to expand our perspective beyond ourselves and recognize that everyone fails and that making mistakes is a part of the human experience. Not recognizing this unshakeable truth, however, can isolate us and worsen our suffering. We may begin to alienate ourselves and see ourselves as imperfect while choosing to blind ourselves with the belief that everyone else is flawless.

By remembering that we are not alone in our mistakes and suffering, we connect ourselves to others. This step marks our movement from self-pity and stagnation to self-acceptance and compassion. It takes a certain sense of presence in the current moment, which is essentially what the third element, mindfulness is. It involves an awareness of our thoughts and feelings, in order to approach them with balance and objectivity.

It helps us distance ourselves from our internal negative spiral and helps us let go of feelings of self-judgment. The way to mindfulness is through our body. Simple tools that engage the recognition of our current bodily state can act as catalysts in bringing our minds to the present and then kick-start the process of self-compassion.

This could entail noticing the tightening of certain body parts throughout the day, such as the jaw, the shoulders, the fist, etc. Once we notice these changes, we must relax our muscles and there are quite a few ways to do that. Stretching, meditating for a few minutes, lying down and taking deep breaths, massaging our own feet, and/or taking a walk to name a few.

Credits: Lutchenca Medeiros

Now that you have the tools for self-compassion, here’s a final takeaway to get you started: We are past the moment in time when self-compassion and self-care can be seen as gifts, as things we must “earn.”, rather these are duties we must practice towards ourselves, by virtue of being human.

Don’t just cut yourself the slack, weave it into a habit that’ll keep you warm on days when the sun isn’t shining its brightest.

Author: Samreen Chhabra works as a Senior Research Fellow at Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences