Compassion is about recognising that difficulties and pain are a part of life and then having the desire and willingness to reduce the suffering in ourselves, others and the world.
We can think of compassion an unconditional, non-judgmental quality - it isn't dependant on how 'good or bad' someone is as a person, but it's based on the belief that everyone is worthy of receiving kindness, forgiveness and care - including ourselves!
I'm sure, you know from experience, that it's challenging to remain compassionate towards ourselves and others all the time! As Highly sensitive people, we're usually very good at offering compassion towards others, but we can find it much harder to be self-compassionate.
When we're going through tough experiences, we tend to treat ourselves far more unkindly than we would treat a loved one in similar circumstances.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, I have a powerful inner critic, and in the past, I held many beliefs that it wasn't okay to make mistakes or that my needs were not worthy of attention. Bringing awareness to this inner critic, be-friending it and offering self-compassion has been hugely transformative for me.
What's often underlying our self-criticism is a fear of disapproval or losing acceptance and love from others. This can increase the presence of negative emotions such as shame, guilt or a sense of unworthiness.
Self-compassion can reduce the intensity of these emotions and also stop us from falling into the trap of believing that our difficulties are not worthy of attention. Highly Sensitive People may think things such as, 'others are suffering more, others have more pain than I do' therefore, 'I should be grateful'.
Many people are indeed going through severe difficulties right now, and the chances are, we do have a lot to be grateful for! But, if we only focus on gratitude, there is a danger of by-passing our struggles and our pain. This is common for highly sensitive people, as we may have learnt to think 'we're too sensitive' or our emotions are 'too much.'
Three Components of Self-Compassion
One of the biggest researchers on self-compassion is Kristin Neff. She explains that self-compassion includes three components: self-kindness vs self-judgment, common humanity vs isolation and mindfulness vs over-identification.
Self-kindness refers to being caring and understanding towards ourselves rather than judgmental.
Common humanity means to recognise that we're all imperfect, we all make mistakes, and everyone goes through difficulties.
Mindfulness is about holding space for our experiences and what's present in us. This allows us to bring more equanimity to our emotions–so neither getting too attached or repressing them or pushing them away.
Self-compassion is not..
Self-compassion is not feeling pity for ourselves or being a victim. Being a 'victim' invites a sense of separation from the world, but self-compassion is about remembering our interdependence with the collective knowledge that suffering and pain is a shared human experience.
It is also not self-indulgence and involves wisdom. When you're compassionate towards yourself, you want to alleviate your suffering. So if you overindulge in some unhealthy food, you may get some short-term pleasure from it, but; it's not necessarily compassionate because it might compromise your physical health in the long term.
Compassion does not mean avoiding conflict, always saying yes or letting other people violate our boundaries. It's about knowing when to say no, respecting our needs, and for this reason, sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is to walk away from a situation or to say no to something.
Self-compassion means to be in touch with our values and needs. We can then discern when our needs are being compromised or if something is harmful or damaging to us.
Some people might view self-compassion as a weakness, but it is actually a strength. It requires courage, a certain level of vulnerability and an ability to stay present with our emotions - even if they are uncomfortable!
Take 5-minutes today to offer yourself compassion. If you are going through a challenging experience or there is a strong emotion present, place your hand on the part of your body — like your heart centre. Breathe into the experience and say to yourself you care for what you're going through. Visualise and feel how your hand is offering this unconditional healing and nourishing energy.
The Self-Compassion and Self-Care Bundle
If you're interested to learn more about self-compassion as a highly sensitive person, you can join the Highly Sensitive Hub - Membership Area for Highly Sensitive People.
In the member's area you'll have access to the 'Self-Care and Self-Compassion Bundle' - a 12-lesson bundle which includes access to guided meditations, self-care and self-compassion practices along with two live workshops –'Skills for Self-compassion' and The Mindful Healing Space'. For more information on the workshops, click here.
Receive access to all this content, the live workshops, a community forum plus even more bundles for an all-inclusive price when you join the Highly Sensitive Hub Membership Area. Choose your plan here.
About the Author
Jules De Vitto is a transpersonal orientated coach and educator who is experienced at helping Highly Sensitive People overcome anxiety, stress and burnout.
Jules is Highly Sensitive herself and is also passionate about helping Highly Sensitive People to step into their authentic power and allign with their true purpose in life. She lived in Asia for eleven years before moving to London and integrates Eastern practices and modern-day mindfulness into her work.
She has a degree in Psychology, an MA in Education and an MSc in Transpersonal Psychology, Consciousness and Spirituality. She’s a published author through Changemaker Books and John Hunt Publishers and wrote Resilience: Navigating Loss in a Time of Crisis to help people through the Covid-19 Pandemic available here.