Based on her research, psychologist Kristin Neff identified three core elements of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness vs. self-criticism
- Common humanity vs. isolation and
- Mindfulness vs. over-identification
Believing that we can intentionally learn to be more self-compassionate and less self-critical, she has developed methods for strengthening each of these elements. And a skill that Kristin Neff sees as vital to strengthening our ability for self-compassion is mindfulness.
How to Achieve Mindful Awareness?
As a non-judgmental and receptive state of mind, mindfulness allows you to be still and observe and accept your negative thoughts and emotions with openness, rather than over-identifying with them or suppressing and denying them. This state of mind can help you become aware of your thoughts and feelings without constant self-evaluations.
When you become able to give your emotions full attention without either resisting them or drowning in self-pity, your self-kindness will surface and inspire you to think and act towards yourself with more compassion.
Suppression of feelings is a method of emotion regulation. We tend to use emotion suppression as a mental defense mechanism to remove painful memories of socially unacceptable thoughts from our conscious mind, so we don’t get overwhelmed by painful emotions. However, consistent emotion suppression can cause an array of mental and physical disorders such as anxiety, depression or high blood pressure. It is, therefore, important that we learn to express our negative feelings as this helps us accept ourselves and put our own situation into a larger perspective.
On the other hand, sometimes a feeling affects you so profoundly that you feel swallowed up by it. You may attach this feeling more weight than is necessary and start believing that the feeling controls and determines your life. In other words, you may be over-identifying with the feeling to such an extent it has a negative effect on other areas of your life. When you over-identify with your feelings, they may become unproductive and affect your well-being. Over-identification leads to ruminating on your failures, limitations, and imperfections, increasing the risk of exaggerating the importance of your failures.
Mindfulness allows you not to become over-identified with your feelings and thoughts and overwhelmed by your negative reactions. It can help you to observe and label your emotions without reacting to them.
However, mindfulness is a skill that requires learning and takes time to master. Being fully aware of and open to your emotions without attempting to deny or suppress them allows you to be receptive to what you are experiencing at the moment, without over-identifying and being caught in negative reactions.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool that can help manage your inner critic and handle stress better. Being self-compassionate means that you are able to acknowledge your feelings and move on rather than over-identify with them.
Mindfulness is the first step in that process – focusing on difficult experience, thought or emotion without self-judgment allows for self-compassion to arise and bring a gentle awareness to ourselves.