Inside: If you’ve ever felt stuck in fear or pain, if you’ve spent time hiding or procrastinating on what matters most to you, if you’ve felt despondent about the state of your life or the world, learning how to practice fierce self-compassion will help. This post includes referral links.
Fierce self-compassion is what helped me learn to show up to my work and writing through fear. It’s what has kept me living and breathing after the death of my child. And it’s why I stay open to healing, growing, and becoming in the midst of a messy and beautiful life.
People who practice self compassion are shown to be more motivated, less afraid to fail, have more self-confidence and a higher degree of self responsibility, are more resilient and better at coping in difficult situations.
Compassion is a response to someone’s suffering with a desire to help or relieve their suffering. When we see someone hurting and offer a hug or a kind word, we demonstrate compassion. When we see someone who is hungry or hurting, whether a toddler or a sign-wielding person standing at an intersection, we can offer compassion by feeding them and meeting their need.
Self-compassion is when we recognize and relieve our own suffering or hardship. We offer ourselves the same response to difficult situations as we would a friend. We listen to what we need and respond with kindness.
Tender self-compassion harnesses the energy of nurturing to alleviate suffering, while fierce self-compassion harnesses the energy of action to alleviate suffering – when these are fully integrated they manifest as caring force.Kristen Neff
the two types of self-compassion
There are two types of self-compassion that work together to create a caring force for ourselves. The first is what we most often associate with compassion and that is called tender self-compassion.
Tender self-compassion is nurturing like a mother wrapping a child in a warm hug. Tender self-compassion looks like accepting ourselves for who we are in this season in all our imperfections. It might look like telling ourselves in the midst of a hard day that we are doing the best we can with what we have and that is enough.
The second type of self-compassion is fierce self-compassion. Fierce self-compassion is taking action to relieve your suffering. Sometimes acceptance simply leaves us in our suffering unnecessarily and the compassionate response is to respond with action or change.
The two types together help us become our most authentic self. The following graphic by Kristen Neff is helpful in seeing how the two together become a caring force.
Suffering Is Part of the Human Experience, Self-Compassion is the Response
Part of being a messy human in an imperfect world is that we will face difficulties, hardships, heartbreak. Suffering is usually associated with someone in unbearable physical or emotional pain. But in this context we refer to suffering with a much wider scope, essentially it is any
unpleasant feeling, emotion, or sensation.
The better we get at recognizing our pain and suffering, or the deeper our roots of self-awareness, the more able we are to respond to it with self-compassion. There are three components of self-compassion which I’ve outlined below.
Pause and Reflect: Before you continue reading, think of a situation that is currently or has in the past caused you minor suffering, discomfort, or frustration so you can practice as you read about each component.
1. Mindfulness: Be with the pain or your experience, acknowledge its existence
Sometimes we simply try to ignore suffering or discomfort by refusing to acknowledge it or thinking it’s too small to really matter. But mindfulness brings us into the pain and gives us permission to feel it and acknowledge its presence and how our suffering is impacting us.
It might look like saying, “My pain is real and my truth matters.”
Pause and Reflect: Close your eyes and focus on your current or recent suffering. Think about what is or was true in that moment. What do you feel? Name the emotions and feelings. Notice the physical effects. Name what is true to you right now.
2. Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our suffering and that this is part of living in an imperfect world and being an imperfect human
Sometimes we can isolate ourselves by thinking we are the only one with a certain struggle or hardship, or we are hard on ourselves for being a certain way or in a bad situation. Common humanity helps us feel less alone in our suffering. Simply reminding ourselves that we are not the only person with this struggle or hardship can give us a gentler perspective.
It might look like: “I am not alone. I am not the only person who has __ (been late for an important meeting, had cancer, lost a loved one, had financial struggles, been a victim of abuse.) Someone understands what I’m walking through. I am seen.”
Pause and Reflect: How can you find common humanity and connection in your suffering?
3. Self-Kindness: Treating self with care, releasing judgment, desiring to alleviate suffering
What would you tell a friend in your situation? Self-kindness is like becoming your own best friend. Best friends show up and stand up for one another and that’s what you have to do for yourself. When you step back and look at the situation from a friend’s point of view it can help to see if there are boundaries you need to set for yourself or others, or other ways you need to take care of yourself so you won’t suffer anymore.
It might look like, “This is not okay and I won’t let it continue,” or “I need to take care of me right now and this is what I need.”
Pause and Reflect: Think of a best friend (real or imagined) that loves you deeply and wants what is best for you. What would this friend do or say to help you perhaps to make you feel safe and respected, or to alleviate your suffering, or to encourage you to stand up for yourself?
Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.Louise L. Hay
How We Show Up for Ourselves With Fierce Self-Compassion
Fierce self-compassion is necessary when we need to move beyond acceptance and understanding and out of a painful situation. The situations that call for action. What are ways we can take action to be compassionate to ourselves? We’ll look at the three ways we can take action and how those might show up within the components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.
Sometimes our suffering is because we need to say no to someone or something, set a boundary, or stand up for some kind of injustice. We show self-compassion when we build boundaries that protect what matters to us most and fiercely stand up for what is right.
- Mindfulness: Clearly stating the truth > “This is not okay.”
- Common Humanity: Find strength in numbers > “We stand together”
- Self Kindness: Brave boundaries > “Stop”
Sometimes fierce self-compassion is saying yes to ourselves or something that we need. This might look like saying yes to making time for healthy movement or to making an appointment with a therapist. It might mean saying yes to a nap or yes to a career change.
- Mindfulness: Understanding what we need to be our best self > “I am overstimulated by too much noise. I need to create more quiet space”
- Common Humanity: Providing for self in a balanced way with others > “You may have your screen time with headphones and I’ll enjoy some quiet time.”
- Self Kindness: Taking care of our needs > “I’m overstimulated and need to take a 10 minute break.”
Some suffering or discomfort could be relieved by having better habits or by taking care of ourselves more intentionally. Because we care about ourselves and want our lives to be better, e practice self-compassion by taking good care of ourselves. This might look like:
- Mindfulness: Recognizing where we need to make a change > “I know this habit is making me feel unwell. I’d like to make a change.”
- Common Humanity: We are all human and are learning as we go > “I am still learning and growing just like every other person with breath still in them.”
- Self Kindness: Encouraging growth through better habits, choices, practices “I love myself too much to continue hurting. I will make a change because I’m worth investing in.”
brave and compassionate community matters for health and happiness!
The Brave + Beautiful Community is a place for brave, weary, curious women in the middle season of life. We gather in warm and welcoming community to build relationship, learn and grow together, practice new skills with ongoing support, and reclaim freedom, wholeness, and joy for our lives.
7 resources to help you practice fierce self-compassion
In the Brave and Beautiful Community and through private coaching with clients, I always teach the concept and practice of self-compassion. It is THAT important. Here are seven additional resources to help you dive in deeper:
3. Blog post: https://www.alifeinprogress.ca/self-compassion/
4. Enjoy this workshop to help you feel more empowered through a practice of self-awareness, self-compassion, and imperfect action
5. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Guided Practices and Exercises
6. Fierce Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff
7. The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Neff and Germer
Remember, you’re not bad, wrong, or broken or a problem to be fixed. You can befriend yourself exactly who and how you are: a messy tangle of strength and struggle just like the rest of us. An imperfect and beautiful life in progress. Human in a messy world.
No matter how long you’ve lived or where you’re coming from, you can always write and embody a new story for your life.
We need both tender self-compassion AND fierce compassion to become the healthiest and most integrated version of ourselves and to show up for ourselves when life gets hard. We can accept and love ourselves fully and wholly for who we are right now and also fight fiercely for the life we want.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Christopher K. Germer, clinical psychologist and co-developer of The Mindful Self-Compassion Program: “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
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