This week (October 7th to October 13th) is Mental Health Week. To celebrate we got together with gorgeous Kate and Lauren from Little Jar of Happiness and The Vibe Tribe to chat about the ins and outs of self-compassion. We’ve made some notes below for anyone who wants to find ways to bring some kindness and care to themselves when they need it most.

As an aside, if you ever need a beautiful pick me up for someone you love, a Little Jar of Happiness is not only a sunshiny way to light up someone’s day, but they also donate $2.50 from every jar sold to Beyondblue. Even more impressive for Mental Health Week, $5 from every jar goes towards the indispensable work that Beyondblue do to provide support and care to people at any time of day or night.

So what is self-compassion?

According to Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneering researcher and psychologist in the field, self-compassion is made up of three core components.

#1 Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness involves paying attention to the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that come up for you without judging them or trying to change them
  • Instead of getting caught up in what we notice, with mindfulness we step back and observe how we feel and think
  • So we don’t try to talk ourselves in and out of how we feel, we just watch
  • Mindful self-compassion is also about taking a balanced approach to our experience. So this means we don’t push down or suppress what comes up, but likewise we don’t get bogged down in it or buy into it too much
  • Mindfulness is a key part of self-compassion because we can’t stop and try to be compassionate towards ourselves until we realise what’s happening for us

#2 Common humanity 

  • When things go wrong or we stuff up in some way it’s common to feel like we’re abnormal, or the only person who struggles in this way or to this extent. This can lead us down the path of comparing ourselves with others. And this never tends to turn out well!
  • Not only does comparison tend to make us feel worse, it’s usually not that accurate because we tend to assume we are alone in our pain
  • As humans though, we are all imperfect and flawed. Literally everyone single person who walks this planet, no exceptions!
  • Self-compassion involves recognising that we all share this vulnerability
  • This messiness is something that we all go through, rather than something that happens just to you or me alone

#3 Self-kindness 

  • Being kind and caring towards ourselves when we are suffering – instead of the two extremes of beating ourselves up for how we feel or ignoring how we feel
  • Self-compassionate people don’t expect themselves to be perfect, to never fail or to not be impacted by difficult and painful things that happen in their life
  • Because of this they tend to approach how they feel in a gentle and kind way, rather than battling with themselves or fighting against their experience, which tends to result in self criticism, stress, shame and frustration with ourselves
  • If you think of it like a tug of war against life, self-kindness is like dropping the rope. It’s deciding you’re not going to use your limited energy fighting against yourself or against the hard stuff that inevitably comes up in life. Instead you’re going to use your energy to take care of yourself

How can we practice self-compassion?

A simple and quick way to practice self-compassion is with a self-compassion break. This exercise is also based on the work of Dr Kristen Neff.

Step one 

Mindfully note what’s happening for you in the moment, but keep it super simple:

Some examples include:

  • This hurts
  • This is painful
  • This is stressful
  • This is hard
  • I feel sad
  • I feel overwhelmed
  • I feel inadequate
  • I feel ashamed
  • I feel like a failure

Use whatever statement feels most natural to you, but that doesn’t exaggerate the situation or try to minimise it.

Step two

Gently place your hand on your heart. Be curious about how you feel as you do this.

Step three

Remind yourself that you’re not alone in feeling this – that feeling pain is a part of life and a part of being a human.

Some examples include:

  • I’m not alone, other people feel this way
  • Pain is apart of living
  • We’re all flawed
  • Being human means being imperfect
  • We all struggle at times
  • We all make mistakes

Step four

Channel some self-kindness by coming up with 1-2 simple statements that fit the situation you are in. Ask yourself, what do you need to hear right now that will help you to feel kindness towards yourself? If you’re stuck, think about what you would say to a friend, a child or even yourself as a child.

Some examples include:

  • You’ll get through this
  • This will pass eventually
  • I accept you as you are, flaws and all
  • You’re doing your best
  • This is hard, but I’m here with you
  • This sucks, but we’ll get through it
  • No matter how bad you feel, you deserve kindness and care just like everyone else
  • Be patient with yourself while you’re feeling like this
  • I accept you as you are in this moment
  • I get how hard this is and I’m here for you

The idea is to speak to the part of you that is hurting – so it’s like the healthy, adult part of you speaks to this part, but if this feels a bit fake or cheesy you can say it more as an aspiration, something you want to aim for:

  • May I accept myself as I am in this moment
  • May I be kind to myself while I’m feeling this pain
  • May I be kind and gentle to myself in amongst this messiness
  • May I patient with myself as I work through this

A few tips for practising self-compassion:

  • It can sometimes feel a bit robotic or fake trying to relate to yourself in this way. That’s why it’s important that you find the words that feel right for you and just give yourself time to ease into this different way of responding to yourself
  • As with learning any new skill, initially it’s best to practise self-compassion when you’re feeling pretty calm and grounded. That way you can get your confidence up, tweak it a little and feel ready to work your self-compassion magic next time you’re in need of a little kindness
  • You might notice opposite emotions to self-compassion come up, like irritation, anxiety and judgement. If feelings or thoughts like this arise, just notice them without getting caught up in them
  • To minimise the thinking you need to do, next time you need a little self-kindness consider writing down 4-5 statements you can choose from under step. Some people find it helpful to keep notes in their phone and others prefer to have it on a little card in their wallet. Find what makes this easy and do-able for you
  • This exercise is about opening up to, softening and leaning into yourself. You’ll notice that the way you care for others transforms when you start to care for yourself in this way

If this blog resonated, you might also enjoy our post about taming your inner critic or simplifying self care.

This photo was taken by Breeana Dunbar Photography in one of our favourite places, the Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy North.