Do you ever notice the irony of extending solace to a friend with a gentle and understanding tone, only to realise that your own internal dialogue tends to be a harsh critic? Then, you are not alone since many people detect such irony when they first realise it.

Imagine the following scenario: a friend confides in you about a mistake, and you respond by saying: “Hey, it is okay. Everyone makes mistakes. You will bounce back, and things will get better.” Yet the tone completely shifts when you react to your mistakes: “What went wrong this time? I cannot believe I did that. I am such a failure.” Sounds familiar? Then, this blog is for you. In this blog, we are delving into defining self-compassion with its three interconnected components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Being self-compassionate means treating oneself with the same kindness that one would a friend going through a tough time. Although it is socially expected to help friends and family, we frequently fail to do the same for ourselves. Treating oneself as one would treat a good friend is a simple way to understand self-compassion. The full definition includes three essential components that are relevant in times of distress: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

1. Self-Kindness: A Compassionate Response to Mistakes

Self-kindness is the ability to respond to mistakes or failures with compassion instead of criticism. There are plenty of generous and caring people in the world who continuously question their own value. Self-kindness cultivates a loving attitude toward oneself in an effort to counteract this tendency. The approach is encouraging and supportive rather than harshly criticising. Offering warmth and unconditional acceptance is prioritised over criticising and attacking for perceived shortcomings. Similarly, we actively soothe and comfort ourselves when the outside circumstances of life become too much for us to handle.

2. Common Humanity: Embracing Our Shared Imperfections

Common humanity, just like self-kindness, is an integral component of self-compassion, emphasising the awareness of our interconnectedness as human beings. It involves recognising that each person is a flawed work-in-progress who is prone to errors, failure, and hardships in life. Even though this understanding seems straightforward, it is simple to overlook. It is easy to believe that everything “should” go, “supposed” to go, perfectly and that any deviation from this is a sign of failure.

In reality, facing difficulties and making mistakes are not only common but also essential to the human experience. Sadly, it is not always easy for us to recognise the common humanity of our experiences. We have a tendency to internalize suffering and feel alone and isolated instead of acknowledging the experiences we share. Recognising suffering as universal fosters unity, turning challenges into opportunities for connection despite differences.

3. Mindfulness: A Clear and Balanced Awareness

Mindfulness, the third essential component of self-compassion, entails having a clear and balanced awareness of the present moment. It involves accepting the present as it is, welcoming all ideas, feelings, and experiences without resistance. Essential to face and acknowledge suffering, reacting with compassion and kindness to practice mindfulness effectively.

Though suffering appears evident, many overlook the depth of their pain, especially with self-criticism. Additionally, people often lose perspective amidst life’s obstacles, consumed by seeking solutions. Mindfulness enables us to confront reality, countering the urge to evade unpleasant thoughts and emotions.

Mindfulness prevents becoming excessively absorbed in negative thoughts, shielding against overwhelming reactions. Practising mindfulness allows us to observe suffering without amplifying it, promoting a balanced perspective. Recognising pain without overgeneralising fosters a healthier, neutral outlook on ourselves and our lives.

In the journey of cultivating more self-compassion, even though it can be difficult at times, finding a pleasant and simple way to practice self-compassion is the aim. Every moment of self-compassion should ideally entail less stress, less striving, and less work—not more. Hence, in this journey, being a “slow learner” is a good thing. Some people push themselves too hard to develop self-compassion, which disregards the purpose of self-compassion training. Keep in mind that developing self-compassion is a gradual process rather than a race. We should give ourselves the same grace and understanding as we would a friend going through their healing process.

Seray Soyman is working as a Clinical Psychosexologist within the Willingness team, providing psychosexual education and sexual support sessions, as well as delivering training and workshops. She has a master’s in Clinical Psychosexology from the Sapienza University of Rome. Seray’s research interests are sexual communication, sex-positive behaviour, LGBTQIA+ studies, and sexual health.

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