There was once my friend asked me what I’m writing about and I said: Self-compassion.
She then wondered, “Is there such a thing known as self-compassion?”
Self-compassion and self-love are concepts that might seem weird or silly to some people because it’s not something that we learn in schools or from our parents. To others, it might sound a lot like self-indulgence, self-importance, or being too self-absorbed and selfish.
But that is not what self-compassion is about. As per Kristin Neff, the author of the book Self-Compassion, self-compassion has three elements — self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. There is nothing wrong with being kind to yourself and have empathy for your own sufferings.
However, mindfulness is key in self-compassion.
Without mindfulness, self-compassion becomes self-absorbed.
So let’s understand what mindfulness is first because it’s also a word that could have different meanings to different people.
What Is Mindfulness?
For me, mindfulness simply means focusing on the present moment without judging it as good or bad. It’s also about being aware of and paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
Mindfulness is the state of being aware.
It can be practiced anywhere and anytime, even when you are eating a meal. Becoming mindful is a mental state that anyone can achieve with practice and training.
What Is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
Some people use mindfulness and meditation interchangeably. I don’t.
For me, meditation refers to something more formal such as sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed and repeating a specific mantra or listening to a guided audio. I do sit in the morning to meditate in a more formal manner but I don’t consider that as mindfulness.
You can be mindful without meditating.
You can also meditate but not be mindful.
Mindfulness is more like a mental state or a state of being, while meditation is an activity. Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that can help us to get to that mindful state. But to be mindful, meditation is not always necessary.
Moreover, one can meditate and get carried away by their own thoughts and emotions without noticing them. The guided meditation that they are listening becomes background music while they unconsciously indulge in their own fantasy and thoughts.
What Mindfulness Is Not?
Contrary to what most people believe, mindfulness doesn’t always make you feel calm and peaceful. You might feel relaxed and it might reduce your stress eventually but it’s not guaranteed.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. If you are feeling a strong, negative emotion right now, mindfulness brings your attention to the negative emotion. It gives you an opportunity to face your emotion upfront and accept it wholeheartedly.
Mindfulness is not about running away from your experiences.
When someone is not mindful, they get easily carried away by their emotions. They might perform activities unconsciously, for example, playing mindless games and watching mindless TV. They might also be drowned in their own stories, feeling like a victim and pity for themselves.
Mindfulness is not always as nice as what most people have imagined. But it allows you to act and choose intentionally, rather than being controlled by your ego and subconscious mind.
Why Is Mindfulness Based Self-Compassion Important?
I have this movie analogy in my third book, Empty Your Cup. When you watch a movie, you don’t become the characters in the movie. Even though you might empathize with the characters and their circumstances, you are not the characters.
When we revisit the past, it’s as though we are watching a movie. Just that this movie is something we had experienced in the past and can relate to deeply. But what happened in the past is in the past. It’s no longer our current experience. Yes, the story is true at that time. But we are just like an audience in a cinema watching the replay from the past. The story is not true now; we are not the same person we were before.
When self-compassion is not based on mindfulness, we get lost in our stories.
When we are reliving our past trauma, it’s important for us to not get lost in the story. We want to acknowledge the emotions we feel and let them go but we don’t want to get stuck in them. Mindfulness helps us to do this. It helps us separate our true selves from our stories.
Without mindfulness, it’s very easy to get into a state of self-pitying and victimhood. We can’t separate the two — our true self and our past self. So we act as though we are still the little kid who was neglected, abandoned, abused and wounded. We hate ourselves or blame the people around us for causing us pain.
However, that’s not self-compassion. Self-compassion is about taking care of the wounded child within you. It’s not about being the wounded child. It needs to be based on mindfulness.
How Can Mindfulness Help You Love Yourself More?
There are many benefits to mindfulness. It can help us to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. When mindfulness and self-compassion work hand in hand, they can help us to overcome our low self-esteem issues and stop us from feeling inferior.
Below are a few ways in which mindfulness can be helpful in our self-compassion journey.
1. It helps you identify your addictive tendencies and behaviors.
When we feel hurt, some of us seek comfort items and activities such as food and shopping to help us feel better. We think that this is part of self-care and self-love. There is nothing wrong with these activities but if we use them to manage our pain, we are in danger of being addicted to these activities.
Furthermore, these activities don’t help to resolve the emotional pain that we are feeling. It helps us avoid and distract the pain for a while but it doesn’t solve the core issue. Plus, when we recognize that we are out of control, we might feel even more guilty and ashamed of ourselves.
Mindfulness brings our attention to our unconscious behaviors.
Instead of acting out unconsciously and habitually, mindfulness allows us to see the triggers and how we repeat certain activities whenever our pain is triggered. With this information, we can choose an alternate action that is better for us instead of staying addicted.
Also, we would be more aware of how these addictions are causing harm to our body instead of denying the negative impact they have on us. And if we can’t control our addictions, at least we know it’s not our fault. It’s just that our mental grip on us is too strong for us to handle now. We can be kinder to ourselves and not blame ourselves for losing control.
2. It helps you let go of your wrong self-perceptions.
As mindfulness helps you to be more aware of your thoughts, you will realize that most of your thoughts are conflicting in nature. A part of your mind wants to rest and relax, while the other part of your mind wants you to work and be responsible. A part of your mind wants you to care for others, but another part of your mind is afraid that you might be taken advantage of.
Which thought is the correct one? None of them.
Knowing that there are various opinions in your mind helps you realize that you can’t trust all the things your mind tells you. This includes all the negative stuff the mind says about you. For example, you are not good enough, you are unworthy, and you are unlovable.
Mindfulness helps you to deal with the pain as it arises.
Also, since mindfulness helps you to be aware of your emotions and bodily sensations, you can better recognize the wrong beliefs or self-perceptions you have on yourself that are beyond words. For instance, as I am typing the words “you are unlovable”, I feel a tinge of sensations in my chest when I’m typing. This allows me to stop, feel the unloved part of me that still resides within me, and let it go immediately.
You can find more information on how to deal with self-criticism and wrong self-perceptions in my book, The Disbelief Habit.
3. It helps you recognize your unfulfilled needs and unprocessed pain.
Sometimes, our needs are not apparent to us. We think we need to work harder to feel successful in life. We think we need to please others so that they will love us. Even though we are doing a lot, we still feel unfulfilled and unloved. That’s because we have been ignoring our hearts.
Mindfulness helps you see what we truly need by making us aware of our pain. Most of our emotional pain is a product of our childhood. We didn’t get the love that we desire from our parents and we are still seeking love for external sources.
Mindfulness allows you to have empathy for your old circumstances.
It lets you know how helpless and vulnerable you were as a kid. It helps you understand your childhood trauma better and the hardships that you had been through so that you can care for that part of you that is still hurt and help it process its grief. This is better than letting your grief dictates your actions and behaviors unconsciously, which you later might regret.
To learn how to have empathy for your inner child, please read my book, Parent Yourself Again.
4. It cultivates self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
Mindfulness helps you to be less judgmental. When you are mindful, you will understand that the things you had done in the past are due to unawareness. If you had made a grave mistake, you will be able to forgive yourself. You realize that a fragment of your mind had taken over you previously.
We all have multiple voices in our head. They are known as subpersonalities in psychology. With mindfulness, we will come to understand that they all have a purpose and a role. Some of them are to protect us from harm, while others help us to be in touch with our pain. Understanding each of them helps you to accept yourself.
When you observe and accept, you react less.
Being the observer (your true self) not only allows us to separate yourself from the stories told by your subpersonalities, it helps you to take more deliberate and intentional actions. All the opinions from your subpersonalities are just a point of view. You don’t react immediately based on one of your subpersonalities’ limited beliefs. Their method might work in the past but it might not be effective now.
Ultimately, it depends on you, the observer, to listen to all views and decide what to do. It’s also your responsibility to harmonize all subpersonalities and reduce any inner conflict you might experience. This is the point of mindfulness and this is how it can help you to be more self-compassionate.
To have a better understanding of your true self, you can read my book, Empty Your Cup.
Featured Photo Credit: ‘Morning Rise’, Mexico, Oaxaca, Mazunte / Chris Ford