Mindful self-compassion, also known as MSC, is a practice that combines the simple skills of mindfulness and self-compassion.
Both of these gentle therapeutic skills have proven to be incredibly effective approaches for improving anxiety, depression, emotional well-being, and so much more!
Defining “mindful” and “self-compassion” separately can help better explain each practice and exactly why they work so well together.
The definition of mindfulness refers to the awareness of how you feel.
Mindfulness brings your attention to what you are experiencing and encourages you to quite literally feel everything you can about it, from how the experience is affecting your physical body to the sounds or smells you can sense around you.
Mindfulness can even help you be more accepting of your circumstances. Think of mindfulness as the support system for self-compassion, like water is to flowers in a vase.
Self-compassion is, in its simplest form, compassion for oneself.
It’s how you treat yourself or talk to yourself under both challenging and everyday circumstances.
Self-compassion responds to both your everyday bumps in the road as well as your more substantial failures, doubts, and judgments with empathy and non-judgment.
Choosing to speak to yourself as though you were talking to a dear friend, or in a way that doesn’t reinforce your criticisms, is what self-compassion is all about.
What Does Mindful Self-Compassion Look Like?
For four years, Janet had been caring for her father with Alzheimer’s. One afternoon, she collapsed and ended up being rushed to the hospital.
Janet had been working in the back of the house when her father had decided to cook vegetables on the stove. Soon he’d forgotten about them and started a fire.
Before that, he dumped the laundry in the backyard and locked himself out of the house.
The temperature that day hovered around 37 degrees.
Each and every day was like this; relentless and exhausting with no breaks.
Janet blamed herself.
As she was lying in her hospital bed, these words looped in her mind:
“What’s wrong with you? Why is taking care of dad so hard for you? Clearly, you haven’t learned a thing in the support groups or the hundreds of classes you’ve taken on dementia.
You never do anything right. Dad could have been hurt! You’re the dumbest person on the planet...”
Looking at this through a mindful self-compassion lens, never in a million years would Janet ever speak to her fellow caregivers or any of her closest friends this way.
If they had experienced a similar day, she would’ve talked to them with empathy and patience:
“I know you’re doing the best you can. I’m so sorry you are going through this alone and I’m always here for you.
How can I help? What else can I do for you?”
Janet was dumbfounded when she made the connection between how she spoke to herself and how she would speak to anyone else in her life.
Suddenly she felt so disappointed, realizing she had to find a way to be on her own team and speak to herself in a more compassionate way.
She made a promise to herself that day: to, at the very least, stop talking to herself with such a painful, negative voice, and to begin treating herself as she would a good friend.
Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion in 5 Simple Steps
1. Ask yourself: “Would I talk to a friend this way?” If the answer is no, explore with yourself what you would say to a friend if they were in a similar situation.
2. Remind yourself that thoughts and feelings are not always the truth. When scared or suffering, your thoughts and attitude can become distorted. Emotions are highly charged and influenced by the heat of the moment. Give it time.
And in the meantime…
3. …Be neutral with your self-talk. Try to be less intense in your language and speak to yourself with patience. This could sound like, “I can’t control this. This is challenging but I can respond in a different way. I’m smart and can figure this out.”
4. “Clobber Your Critic.” Learn to spot your critical inner voice.
Saturday Night Live runs a comedic sketch with a character they call Debbie Downer. It pokes fun at a woman who never has anything good to say about anything!
Take a page out of SNL’s book and consider creating a goofy, fictitious character in your mind and giving him or her a nickname. This practice can help disarm your negative voice.
Bonus: It can also highlight and show you how ungrounded some of your self-judgmental thoughts can be!
5. Remember: Your self-perceived flaws, faults, and shortcomings are typical human frailties. You are not alone.
5 Unique Benefits of Mindful Self-Compassion
1. Better coping skills! Job loss, moving, caregiving, death, divorce, health challenges, and so many other obstacles are all a part of life.
As you become better at practicing mindful self-compassion, these challenges will be met with healthier coping skills that allow you to move through them with more ease and kindness to yourself and those around you.
2. More resilience. Resiliency is a key component to persistence!
Mindful self-compassion helps to reduce the “kick yourself while you’re down” mentality so many of us practice when we come to a bump in the road. We blame ourselves or wish we had done better or done something differently.
By treating yourself more gently, you’ll bounce back faster and stronger than before.
3. More forgiving of others. The way we treat ourselves creates a ripple effect of how we treat others.
As we become more forgiving and understanding of our own mistakes and the flaws that simply come along with being human, we begin to offer others even more softness as well.
4. Optimistic outlook. Talking negatively to yourself in your head translates into the rest of your life and often has a negative effect on your outlook as a whole.
Practicing mindful self-compassion leads to a more positive outlook that spreads from your self-talk to your relationships to how you view everyday situations.
5. Deeper, more genuine, meaningful relationships. Such a huge piece of successful, genuine relationships is accepting each other for who each person is at their authentic core.
You have to do the same thing for yourself!
Becoming more self-compassionate allows you to accept and offer every part of yourself (even the ones you may not be thrilled with!) to another person, allowing them to reach a new depth with you and create an even more meaningful bond.
Simple “How-to’s” to Master Mindful Self-Compassion
*Give yourself permission to make mistakes. You're more encouraging and forgiving to others than you are towards yourself. Try not to judge yourself too quickly.
*Choose a positive mantra for each day or week. Your mantra can sound something like, "I can do hard things," or, "I've got this."
*Avoid assuming you'll feel a certain way about an upcoming event. Whether it's a dreaded work project, family member you don't get along with, or a function you don't feel like going to, try to release your negative expectations and find neutrality.
Talk to yourself in a way that keeps you from getting pulled under by your own feelings about it.
*Let go of your need for approval. Social pressures like maintaining a certain weight, how many "likes" you get on Facebook, or driving the right car zap your strength and personal power so quickly.
Self-compassion elevates your self-worth so you don't need (or want!) external validation to feel valuable and lovable.
*Write yourself a letter as if you were writing it to a friend. This is one of the most powerful things you can do to kick off your mindful self-compassion practice! It may be the first time you have ever spoken to yourself kindly.
Recognize how it feels to read your words after you've written them.
The next time you find yourself suffering, try leaning on yourself. The best part: you are always available. Remember, any pain and discomfort you experience lessens with time and without fail. Remind yourself you are no different than anyone else who needs the same comfort and care while you heal.
Mindful self-compassion means bringing your focus inward and caring for yourself gently and kindly. The good news is mindful self-compassion is absolutely a skill that can be learned.
Even better news? Once you begin practicing it, you’re now on the right path to replacing your self-criticism with kinder words and softer phrases.
The best news of all: this is how you gift yourself with the beauty of self-acceptance and grace.
Kristen Neff, writer of “Self-Compassion.” Associate professor in Human Development and Culter int eh Educational Psychology Department at the University of Texas, co-founder of the 8-week training program, “Mindful Self-Compassion.”
Debbie Hampton, writer of the article, “The Advantages of Self-Compassion and Learn How To Get Extra”
Christopher Germer, PhD, private practice at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance. He is a founding member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and of the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion. Author of “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion” and co-creator of the hit online course, “The Power of Self-Compassion.”
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