I hear a lot about the importance of being kind to each other. I believe it is also important to be kind to ourselves. As we wrap up our second week of working at home, I have heard from many regarding the new challenges this transition brings. Challenges such as embracing a different mindset, developing appropriate structure and using new tools. Perhaps you too are finding it difficult to establish boundaries between work and family, mitigate interruptions, maintain quality communication among your team, learn new technology, make time to exercise and stay healthy.

As you navigate these challenges and adapt to the new normal, you may stumble and fall. When you do, I encourage you to practice self-compassion.

What is self-compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. Much like the compassion you would extend a good friend going through a hard time. Contrary to what some might think, self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence or self-esteem and it does not mean you are letting yourself off the hook.

Let’s take a closer look at self-compassion’s three elements and how to apply them:

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or being self-critical. Self-compassion requires recognizing that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. When confronted with painful situations, be gentle rather than angry. Rather than deny or fight suffering, accept it with sympathy and kindness.
  2. Common humanity vs. Isolation. When we are frustrated because things are not exactly as we want, the frustration is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “you” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “you” alone.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

To learn more about self-compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website and TEDx Talks

By: Elizabeth Hill, Associate Director, University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office