Self-compassion is the art of extending the same kindness, understanding, and support to ourselves that we readily offer to others in times of struggle or distress. There are significant benefits to cultivating self-compassion in our lives, however, it can sometimes feel hard to achieve. In this article, I’m going to explain exactly what self-compassion involves, why it’s particularly important in and around pregnancy, and discuss three approaches you can use to try and cultivate more self-compassion, to better support your health and wellbeing.
Core components of self-compassion
Self-compassion comprises three core elements; mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. Mindfulness refers to one’s willingness to observe negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, to sit with these emotions, holding them in mindful awareness. This is an important part of practicing self-compassion, as it’s not possible to ignore painful feelings and feel compassion for that experience at the same time. Self-kindness is a bit more obvious; it’s showing ourselves warmth and understanding when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than criticising ourselves. Finally, common humanity refers to the shared experience of being human; recognising that suffering and imperfection are part of what it means to be human, and that we all experience this.
Benefits of self-compassion
Showing yourself self-compassion, rather than being overly self-critical and judgemental, will obviously go a long way to helping you feel better in yourself and improving your sense of wellbeing. However, it doesn’t end there - research suggests that self-compassion is linked to improved physical health and life satisfaction, and to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Self-compassion is also important when trying to make sustainable lifestyle changes, as people who show themselves kindness and compassion are more likely to persevere with making healthy changes, even after experiencing a setback or “falling off the waggon”.
If you’re currently going through fertility treatment or trying to conceive naturally, are currently pregnant, or have recently had a baby, I’m sure you’ll know how easy it can be to slip into negative patterns of thinking and the tendency to be overly hard on yourself. You might be experiencing unkind feelings towards yourself and your body, you might be struggling to make the healthy changes that have been recommended, or you might be finding it hard to manage all the pressures and expectations that come with trying for a baby or transitioning into motherhood. Whatever your experience, self-compassion can play an important role in helping you to manage these feelings and to improve your sense of health and wellbeing.
For some people, being self-compassionate might come fairly naturally and feel easy to do. However, others may struggle to feel that kindness and understanding towards themselves, especially if they have a very loud inner critic piping up! If this sounds like you, there are a couple of simple things that you can do to try and cultivate greater self-compassion in your life.
In those moments where you find yourself being unkind to yourself, take some time out to journal about how you’re feeling, using the following prompts, which are based around the three core elements of self-compassion.
What are you feeling in this moment?
What emotions are coming up for you?
Try to be accepting and non-judgemental of your experience.
Write yourself some kind, understanding, words of comfort.
Let yourself know that you care about yourself, adopting a gentle, reassuring tone.
3. Common Humanity
In what ways is your experience connected to the larger human experience?
Remember that being human means being imperfect and experiencing suffering.
Physical touch activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to calm down and feel safe. It can help to soothe distressing emotions and cultivate self-compassion. If you find yourself being unkind towards yourself, try sitting quietly and placing your hand on your heart. Take a few deep breaths and feel the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Sit with the feeling for as long as you like and repeat as often as is needed.
Writing a compassionate letter
Another way to support yourself to feel more compassionate is to write yourself a letter from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend. You might want to start it off with something like “I know you’ve been struggling recently….” or “I know that things have felt hard….”, whatever feels most appropriate. Tell yourself what you need to hear in this letter, from the perspective of this imaginary friend, who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate. Imagine how this friend would feel towards you, and how they would love and accept you exactly as you are, with all your very human imperfections. Read that letter back to yourself and try to connect with that feeling of love and care when you need it most.