Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
Part 6 in a 7 Part Series on Integrative Mindfulness
Many of us spend so much energy on being compassionate and empathetic towards others that we’re not left with the energy needed to feel self-compassion for ourselves. Mindfulness teaches us that true compassion toward others emerges most fully and most authentically when we first begin to feel compassion for ourselves.
Self-compassion refers to our recognition of our own experience of suffering as well as a willingness to move away from that place of suffering. Self-compassion is not sympathy or pity — both of which can prolong and heighten distress — but a non-judgemental recognition that suffering exists and a gentle willingness to no longer be in that state. Mindfulness does not aim to repress or to even deny the existing of suffering, nor does it encourage us to welcome strong negative emotions into our life. However, a regular mindfulness practice does enable us to recognise two important and interrelated features of the mind: 1) through practice we are able to choose how we respond to challenging or activating emotions, and 2) by acknowledging the existence of these challenging or activating emotions we notice that they will begin to change and move on of their own accord.
Our sense of self-compassion is often challenged by the powerful voice of the inner critic which feeds us disapproving judgements and limiting beliefs. Our inner critic is risk averse and makes decisions based upon negative predictions; that is, our inner critic is the part of us that imagines the worst possible outcomes in order to protect from external judgement. This self-protective element of the inner critic is an adaptive tendency that we may have learned early in childhood, or as we grew through the challenges of adolescence and early adulthood. As a response to external judgements that we have faced, our unconscious develops a judgmental internal voice that aims to head off judgement and criticism in the future. But this adaptive mechanism doesn’t always serve us well, and shouldn’t be relied on as the sole voice of reflection. The inner critic tends to over-correct and can often prevent us from undertaking things which we truly are capable of doing.