Self-Compassion in Relationships | Psychology Today
This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need. —Kristin Nef
What is self-compassion? Compassionate implies not directing blame, shame, or emotion at yourself or your partner (Abramowitz, 2021). More specifically, self-compassion is a sense of freedom from emotions that can impede the development of our relationships with the mind, body, and spirit (Didonna, 2020).
As the epigraph implies, suffering often accompanies someone tethered to these emotions. It is not that emotions are, by nature, detrimental; rather, an unbalanced focus on emotions can detract from a sense of well-being.
Let’s examine three elements of self-compassion and how they can help or hinder relationships: mindful awareness, acceptance of a common humanity, and trust and kindness. Other factors can foster self-compassion in different contexts (see Didonna, 2020; Salzberg, 2014), but these can help us understand self-compassion in relationships.
1. Mindful Awareness
Mindfulness is a state of presence: embracing the current moment’s feelings, events, and thoughts. It is more than a state of mind in which we feel unencumbered by the past and calm about the future. When we accept the tension and suffering that inevitably come with life, we can acknowledge that we don’t need self-esteem to be successful or healthy (Neff, 2011).
Why is self-compassion important? While we may not always have the high self-esteem expected in our competitive society, we will always have self-compassion if we open our hearts to ourselves and seek loving-kindness and peace (Neff, 2011; Salzberg, 2014). If we are always angry and missing out on scarce resources, we may forgo being happy and satisfied with life—with ourselves, friends, coworkers, and loved ones.
Recent research in mindful self-compassion and related initiatives indicates the potential for self-compassion to stimulate development in critical areas of our lives. For example, doing a mindful body scan entails internally and systematically going over each of your body parts from toes to head or vice versa. By adding the element of self-compassion, say, giving yourself grace when coming across an uncomfortable sensation, you can experience healing and a sense of peace (Neff, 2011).
By deliberately focusing on areas of tension in our minds and bodies, we can offer ourselves compassion for the pain and thereby move on with our lives.
2. Acceptance of Common Humanity
Except for extreme circumstances, we are rarely physically alone. Mentally, however, we can feed stranded even in the middle of a crowded street. Acceptance refers to the reality that all humans suffer and experience pain. When we individually suffer, we all share part of the pain, healing, and residual wisdom.
Active listening is one way to accept this common existence. Listening is more of a verb than a noun. It is also something we can all improve throughout our lives.
When we improve our listening skills, we can develop relationships, even with strangers. By applying those skills to our responses to our experiences, we can open up new worlds of resilience and peace in ourselves and others (Neff, 2011; Salzberg, 2014).
3. Trust and Kindness
Kindness results when we understand ourselves when we experience pain, loss, or failure. We can trust that not only will we suffer, but we also trust that we don’t have to criticize ourselves to overcome suffering (Salzberg, 2014).
Life balance is a key concept for well-being. Beverley (2004/2008) states,
All of our strife in life stems from not knowing how to master the fear of abandonment and balance our desire for connectedness with a desire for autonomy.
In other words, we all need to feel loved, love others, and love ourselves. This is tough to achieve because fear and doubt inevitably come into our lives, resulting in pain and suffering.
Related to self-forgiveness, self-compassion is one’s sense that centers on relieving suffering in order to heal, respect, care for, and prevent further harm (Didonna, 2020). The opposite characteristic, self-critique, is common in people with mental disorders who often blame themselves for the pain and harm they cause themselves and others.
In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) treatments that I have experienced, learning self-compassion techniques can mindfully lead to anxiety reduction, a better sense of self-identity, a soothing feeling of trust, and greater self-worth.
We examined three aspects of self-compassion and how they support relationships: mindful awareness, acceptance of a common humanity, and trust and kindness. My wife and I have learned to communicate, especially during trials of mindfulness, acceptance, and trust. One technique we have used includes directing the following statements at ourselves (or others with whom we may disagree) looking in a mirror while breathing deeply, smoothly, and peacefully:
- May I (you, they) be happy.
- May I (you, they) live in peace and free from suffering.
These remarks from Didonna (2020) allow us to take a step back and remember that we all deserve love and understanding, including ourselves. Another self-compassion technique is keeping a self-compassion journal in which you pretend to be a non-judgmental friend offering advice on problems and painful issues (Salzberg, 2014).
How are you integrating self-compassion into your relationships at home? At work? At school?