This article was co-authored by Julia Yacoob, PhD. Dr. Julia Yacoob is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for adults coping with a variety of symptoms and life stressors. Dr. Yacoob earned an MS and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University, and pursued specialized training at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Institute for Behavior Therapy, and Bellevue Hospital Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoob is a member of the American Psychological Association, Women’s Mental Health Consortium, NYC Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Association, and Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.
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Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion.  X Research source But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy. If we agree that it is a common aim of each of us to strive to be happy, then compassion is one of the main tools for achieving that happiness. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.
How do we do that? This guide contains seven different practices that you can try out and perhaps incorporate into your every day life.
In life, one of the few good things that we can really practice is having a sense of compassion. There are certain things that come naturally to some people and certain tendencies that can be difficult to change, but being more compassionate is something that you can actually work on.
One of the great things about compassion is that it not only helps others and helps the world around you, but it also can help you live a better, happier and more fulfilled life. So how do we cultivate more compassion? Well, it’s all about making it a part of your everyday life and truly introducing it into your routine.
Think about it, you wake up and brush your teeth every morning so that your teeth can be healthier. Why not wake up and practice compassion every morning so that your soul can be healthier as well. The good news is practicing compassion isn’t hard and it actually won’t be difficult to start introducing it into your daily routine.
However, before you get started with cultivating compassion in your everyday life, it is important to understand what compassion really is.
Simply put, compassion is a sense of shared suffering. It is typically an emotion that is combined with a desire to help reduce the suffering of another. When we have compassion for others, we want to heal their suffering as if it were our own. When we are more compassionate, we can enjoy some real emotional and spiritual benefits, we can feel a greater sense of purpose in our lives and we can feel happier, healthier and more balanced. We can feel less stressed and feel great self worth, not to mention you can really help others around you for whom you are feeling compassion towards.
All of these changes can happen, you just need to start cultivating compassion in your everyday life, and here’s how.
Start With Empathy
Empathy is a type of stepping stone towards compassion, so practicing empathy first can really help you cultivate compassion in your life. If you are able to feel empathetic towards another person, you are truly on your way. Unfortunately, most people, even if they think they are empathetic, are truly not. Empathy is not a fun thing to practice but over time, it can really change how you think about the world.
Here’s how to practice. Take a fictional situation, it can be made up or even a story on the news. Say it is a person suffering because they have lost everything from a flood. Imagine that this person suffering is someone very close to you. Someone you really, really care about. Imagine the pain they are going through as if it were real. Imagine all of their belongings gone, their photos and precious keepsakes carried away and their struggle to survive. Imagine their suffering in as much detail as possible.
The more you start to practice this in feeling empathetic towards those you love, the easier it will become to start being more empathetic to those you haven’t even met. It is OK to not feel overwhelming empathy or sympathy towards others, which is why you need to continue to practice.
Once you can master this feeling, then you should start to focus on your desire to relieve that suffering. To do this, imagine you are in the shoes of the individual suffering a terrible tragedy. Then imagine, someone you’ve met recently came up to you and truly wanted that suffering to end and did whatever they could to relieve that suffering. Imagine how grateful you would feel and how happy you would be. The more you can imagine these scenarios and practice these feelings, the more they will start to infiltrate into your life in little ways.
Engage in Random Acts of Kindness
Practicing and imagining compassion is only half the battle. You need to practice actually putting your thoughts into action. You can do this with small, random acts of kindness. These don’t have to be big things, they can be something as simple as a smile or a kind word.
Say you see a struggling mother at the grocery store trying to push her cart and handle three energetic children at the same time. Imagine you were that woman feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Going up to her and holding the door, smiling and telling her to have a nice day doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part, but it could be just the act of kindness that she needed to lift her spirits. It is something small, but it is a small way to practice compassion. Over time, these acts of kindness should become part of your daily routine, and then you will find yourself doing them without even thinking and therefore becoming more compassionate without effort.
Practice Compassion Towards Those Who Mistreat You
The true test on whether you are actually cultivating more compassion in your life is to start feeling compassionate for those who have mistreated you. While it can take some time, it is relatively simple to not want a nice stranger you meet on the street or someone you love to suffer. It is something entirely different to not want someone who has wronged you to suffer.
Next time you interact with someone who mistreats you, no matter what they do, do not engage in anger. Instead, retreat. Allow yourself to calm down and detach yourself from the situation. Think about the person who mistreated you and reflect on the situation. Try to imagine their background, even if it is only fictional. Think about what they may have been taught as a child, the things that could have happened to them to cause them to mistreat you or the bad day, week or month they have been going through.
If you can understand that their action was not about you, but was a way of exhibiting pain and suffering in their own life, and actually feel sorry for them and compassionate towards them then you have truly mastered the art of compassion. It is something that you can practice at a big level, such as a co-worker who yelled at you, or at a small level, such as the stranger who cut you off on the highway. Either way, it will help bring a new sense of compassion and understanding into your life.
Learning to be kind to yourself.
Self-compassion or self-love may be a foreign concept for some people. This is especially true for those who were raised in abusive or unloving homes, where compassion may have been non-existent.
A construct drawn from Buddhist psychology, self-compassion refers to a way of relating to the self—with kindness. It is not to be confused with arrogance or conceit, which usually indicates a lack of self-love.
Psychologist Kristin Neff was the first person to measure and operationally define the term “self-compassion.” She describes self-compassion as kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding: “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.” In other words, being kind to ourselves in good times and bad, in sickness and in health—and even when we make mistakes.
Having self-compassion means being able to recognize the difference between making a bad decision and being a bad person. When you have self-compassion, you understand that your worth is unconditional.
Over the last decade or so, research has consistently shown a positive correlation between self-compassion and psychological well-being. People who have self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure.
Ravi Shah, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, believes self-compassion is critical for healthy self-esteem and resilience: “There is a lot of discussion today about narcissism and its problems, but we do want people to have some healthy narcissism.’’ This provides for a stable sense of self when things don’t go well in life, whether it’s a bad day, a loss in competition, or the loss of a job. If we lose our sense of self-worth during these challenges of life, we will have a hard time recovering.
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” –RuPaul
People who lack self-compassion often exhibit a pattern of unhealthy relationships. As author Anis Qizilbash puts it, “How you treat yourself reflects how you let others treat you. If you’re unkind to yourself, you create a standard for how much abuse you accept from others and as a result end up attracting abusive and disrespectful relationships.”
Or, as Shah says, “If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others. And thinking about others’ feelings and giving others breaks are key skills for developing solid relationships.”
When we have self-compassion, we are less likely to depend on others to validate our self-worth.
Psychologist Carla Marie Manly believes self-compassion is a necessary ingredient for a healthy relationship: “If an individual is geared toward neglecting the self while doting on others, this uneven balance will eventually take its toll. When a person has true compassion for the self, that compassion then supports healthy, balanced relationships.”
Following are five ways to begin practicing self-compassion and stop being so hard on yourself:
1. Treat yourself as you would a small child.
Manly suggests considering what a child might want or need in a hurtful situation. That child could be your own, or you could imagine yourself as a child. “Although many adults do not have compassion for themselves,” she says, “they are often able to recognize that a child with a bee sting or hurt knee wants/needs to be hugged or held. Much progress can be made by giving the self the very compassion that one might give to a child.” You can also think of the way you would treat a good friend, or even a beloved pet, and then begin treating yourself accordingly.
2. Practice mindfulness.
When we find ourselves caught in a barrage of self-criticism, it is often because we have gotten swept away in our negative storylines—usually ones that often play on repeat in our heads: “You always say such stupid things. You don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s why nobody likes you,” and so on. This process of over-identification, giving in to our internal critic, is usually accompanied by its counterpart, negative rumination. Mindfulness, or the state of non-judgmental awareness, is the antidote to both.
Psychotherapist and wellness coach Megan Bruneau suggests practicing simple awareness of thoughts and feelings, particularly the “critical inner voice”—without trying to change anything. She helps her clients understand how their critical inner voice has been helpful in the past. “What or who was it protecting you from? How did it motivate or comfort you? Once you find understanding and compassion for the critical voice, you can thank it for the good intentions.”
3. Remember that you’re not alone.
Bruneau reminds clients that to feel is to be human, and that whatever they’re going through is also being experienced by millions of others. If we can recognize our shared humanity—that not one of us is perfect—we can begin to feel more connected to others, with a sense that we’re all in this together. “So many people believe they’re ‘broken’ or ‘screwing up,’” says Bruneau, “when in actuality we’re all fumbling our way through this script-less existence together.”
Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, agrees: “Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves and realizing that the human condition is imperfect and that our flaws and setbacks should connect us and not divide us.”
4. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Columnist and breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott says that “self-compassion is about giving ourselves room to be human, to be flawed and sensitive, lazy and unproductive, without having to define ourselves by those flashes of feelings and ways of being. It’s about cultivating a perspective over ourselves so we never shut ourselves down and never lose faith in our own potential just because we may fly off the deep end one night or hole up in our apartment all weekend.”
Psychotherapist Kristen Martinez likes to use the “permission slip” metaphor, which is the idea of giving yourself permission to make a mistake—as a way of accepting however you are feeling, and acknowledging that other people feel or have felt this way before.
5. Work with a supportive therapist or coach.
We know that our brains have the ability to learn self-compassion but cultivating new patterns of thought or behavior takes effort. “It’s tough to learn self-compassion all on our own,” Shah says. “Therapy provides a safe environment in which the therapist can help you: notice your thoughts and feelings; have a realistic perspective of yourself and others; and demonstrate empathy for you. In time, you will begin to internalize these skills and integrate them into your own life perspective.”
By Derek He
Think back to a time when someone went out of his or her way to help you when you were struggling. How did you feel? For example, one day I had gotten into a serious argument with a family member, and I was visibly upset the entire day. One of my friends noticed how I wasn’t talking much and was keeping to myself. He approached me to reassure me that things were going to be fine. Because he knew how much I liked music, he suggested that we play the piano and sing together later that day.
This simple suggestion instantly lit up my day. It is moments like these when thoughtfulness and compassion can make others feel valued. That is the beauty behind compassion.
To strengthen your relationships with family, friends and coworkers, here are five practical tips to cultivate compassion:
1) Put yourself in other people’s shoes
Think back to when you witnessed someone else in a tough situation. Now imagine if you were that person. What would your day have looked like? What would you be thinking? How would you be feeling? Immerse yourself in these questions and feel the suffering that they were experiencing. Now ask yourself, if you were that person, what would you want others to do for you? Give you a smile, or a compliment? Be a person to talk to?
Your answer can guide you in how to help someone who is suffering. And in the future, aim to do this when you see others needing help.
2) Muse over what makes you similar to others
When it comes to compassion, it ultimately comes down to remembering our shared humanity, the things that make us human and lovable. For example, we are all trying our best to provide for our loved ones and ourselves. We all have fears. We all have goals. We all want love and affection. We are all vulnerable to certain things. We all need protection of some kind.
At the end of the day, these commonalities as well as many others, make us beautiful. Start appreciating how we are all similar and relatable. By doing this, you grow your empathy and compassion.
3) Strive to be compassionate to all people
Many of us have grown to distrust certain groups of people. Whether they have a different appearance, belief system, or socioeconomic background, we may distance ourselves because of our preconceived notions of who they are. However, we need to be compassionate to all people, not just the ones that we choose.
We should even be compassionate for the people who have wronged us. Often times, those people couldn’t help it. As Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
If you had grown up with the same parenting, same environment, and same life experiences, you would probably act the same as them. This does not excuse their behavior, but it can allow you to empathize with those who have hurt you before.
4) Be deliberate in writing about compassion
It’s not enough to have occasional thoughts about wanting to be more compassionate. Your thoughts have to be deliberate to become second nature. That’s what writing can help do—it makes your thoughts and feelings more ingrained in your mind.
I challenge you to make a journal or find a loose-leaf piece of paper and start writing thoughts about your journey in developing compassion. You can reflect on how good you are at it, or on memories relevant to helping others, what you can do to be more compassionate, etc. The point is that journaling helps rewire your brain. You now start seeing more things through the lens of compassion.
5) Care for yourself
It’s hard to care for others when you are in a bad position yourself. Strive to maintain your mental health. Ask yourself if you are content with your life. And if not, then ask yourself why. A lot of the troubles in our lives are not things that are actually real, but things that we make up in our minds.
Realize that your toxic thoughts don’t have to control you. You can slowly remove or replace them with ones that build you up.
Self-love is also essential. Realize that you are enough. Realize that your life would be dull if you were perfect because your imperfections make you more human and life more exciting. You only have one life to live, so spend your time enjoying it.
Compassion is a virtue that can transform your life. It guides you to do things that you otherwise would not do. It makes your mind clearer and opens your heart. Ultimately, your life becomes fuller when you cultivate compassion.
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders.
Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology.
AMV Photo / Getty Images
Compassion involves the ability to feel empathy for others. This ability to understand the suffering of other people is an important component that motivates prosocial behaviors, or the desire to help. The ability to feel compassion for another person requires also having empathy and awareness. You need to be able to understand what another person is facing and understand what it might be like to be in their place.
It is important to note that compassion involves more than just empathy. Compassion helps people feel what others are feeling, but also compels them to help others and relieve their suffering. Until recently, scientists knew very little about whether compassion could be cultivated or taught.
Utilizing Meditation to Teach Compassion
In one study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that not only can adults learn to be more compassionate, teaching compassion could also result in more altruistic behaviors and actually lead to changes in the brain.
The evidence suggests that not only can adults learn to be more compassionate, but that learning compassion can lead to lasting changes in how a person thinks and acts.
How exactly did researchers teach compassion? In the study, young adults were taught to engage in compassionate meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique intended to increase caring feelings for people who are experiencing suffering.
How exactly does this meditation work? While meditating, the participants were asked to imagine a time when someone was suffering. They then rehearsed wishing for the relief of that person’s suffering.
The participants were also asked to practice experiencing compassion for different types of people, starting with someone they would easily feel compassion for, such as a family member or close friend. They were then asked to practice feeling compassion for a stranger, as well as for someone they had a conflict with.
Another group of participants, the control group, was trained in a technique known as cognitive reappraisal in which people learn to reframe their thoughts in order to feel less negative.
The researchers wanted to determine if people could learn to change their habits over a relatively short period of time, so both groups of participants received Internet training for a period of 30 minutes every day for two weeks.
Putting the Compassion Training to the Test
What sort of impact did this compassion training have? How did it compare to the results of the control group?
The researchers wanted to know if compassion training would help the participants become more altruistic. The participants were asked to play a game in which they could spend their own money to help another person in need. The game involved playing with two other anonymous people online, one who was a “Dictator” and one who was a “Victim.” As the participant watched the Dictator share an unfair amount of money with the Victim, the participant could then decide how much of their own money to share and then redistribute the money between the Dictator and the Victim.
The results revealed that those trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money to help the player who had been treated unfairly, an example of altruistic behavior. These players were more likely to engage in this altruism than those in the control group who had been trained in cognitive reappraisal.
Compassion Training Changes the Brain
The researchers also wanted to see what kind of impact this compassion training had on the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) both before and after training, researchers were able to see how compassion meditation influenced brain activity.
What they observed was that those participants who were more likely to be altruistic after the compassion training had an increase in brain activity in the inferior parietal cortex, an area of the brain associated with empathy and understanding for other people. Other regions of the brain associated with positive emotions and emotional regulation also showed an increase in activity.
The researchers suggest that like many other abilities, compassion is a skill that can be improved with practice.
The researchers believe that the results of the study offer exciting possibilities for helping people build compassion, thus transforming the lives of many. Healthy adults are not the only ones who can benefit from such training. Teaching children and adults compassion might help reduce bullying and help those who struggle with social issues.
The Importance of Teaching Compassion
Why is it important to know that compassion can be learned, even in adults? Because compassion is a central component of so many prosocial behaviors including altruism and heroism. Before we take action to help another person, it is important that we not only understand the individual’s situation but that we also feel the drive to relieve their suffering.
According to some researchers, compassion involves three key things:
- First, people must feel that the problems another person is facing are serious.
- They must also believe that these troubles are not self-inflicted. When people believe that a person’s predicament is their own fault, they are less likely to empathize and less likely to help.
- Finally, people must be able to picture themselves in a similar situation facing the same problems.
It may seem like a tall order, but the research suggests that compassion is something that we can learn.
Not only can we learn how to become more compassionate, but building this emotional ability can also lead us to take action and help those around us.
A Word From Verywell
In today’s busy world, it is all too easy to feel that people have lost their connection with one another. Sometimes the onslaught of bad news can lead people to feel that there is little they can do to change what is happening in the world.
Research suggests, however, that compassion is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. Perhaps by learning how to increase our compassion, people can build deeper, more meaningful connections with others that will inspire good works, helpful actions, and simple human kindness.
“How can I help?”
Have you found yourself asking this question a lot more lately? Recent extreme weather events have displaced thousands of people around the world. Tragic violent episodes are plaguing innocent people. Refugees and immigrants face uncertainty, and global diplomacy issues keep tension high.
So, how can you help?
You can take concrete actions to help ease the suffering of those who have been affected by recent tragedies. Your actions could include financial donations for disaster relief, phone calls to your U.S. members of congress to enact legislation, or taking the time to give blood.
Sometimes you may feel paralyzed and unable to take action, and that is a normal reaction. You might feel that you are unable to bear the load of suffering that is dumped upon you week after week. By practicing compassion cultivation meditation techniques, you can learn to stay present with the suffering you’re facing each day without getting overwhelmed. You can train your mind to express empathy for those outside of your normal circle of compassion, and learn how to practice compassion for yourself.
Here are a few compassion meditation practices to help you strengthen your compassion muscles so that during tough times like these, you’re prepared to meet the suffering you witness.
1. Loving-Kindness or Metta Meditation
You can use a simple loving-kindness or metta meditation to help you practice compassion for people who are outside of your normal in-group. Generally, metta meditations begin with offering compassion toward yourself and then expanding that outward to friends and loved ones, and, finally, to people you may not know. You can also use this practice to generate compassionate feelings toward someone who frustrates or angers you.
- Begin by finding a comfortable position that allows you be alert yet relaxed. Take a few deep breaths to settle your mind and ground yourself.
- Next, repeat the following phrases in your mind: “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be free from suffering.”
- As you say each phrase in your mind, see if you can imagine breathing warmth and compassion into your heart space and then breathing out warmth and compassion toward yourself, letting the compassion permeate your body.
- Next, direct those same phrases to someone who is dear to you, saying: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from suffering.”
- Finally, pick a person or a group you don’t know well. Perhaps, it’s a neighbor who you see but don’t know well. If you’ve uncovered your unconscious biases, you can practice compassion for the people who you may be implicitly judging, like a certain gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or body type.
- Again, repeating the phrases for this person or group: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from suffering.”
This simple practice is used by researchers to generate positive emotions, and also has been shown to reduce implicit bias toward stigmatized outgroups like black people and homeless people.
Unsure about your unconscious biases? Try the free online tests offered by Harvard’s Project Implicit.
2. Self-Compassion Meditation
There are several types of self-compassion meditations, and I recommend you find one that best suits you. The below practice uses a little bit of trickery to help you generate feelings of compassion for yourself. One big hurdle for many people in this culture is conjuring the feeling of compassion for self. This practice allows you to first connect with the feeling of compassion for someone else, which you can then direct toward yourself.
- Find a comfortable, upright position. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Return to your normal breathing pace and pay attention to your breath for a few minutes. This will help settle the mind. When you notice your mind wandering, which it will, gently bring it back to the breath.
- After settling the mind, imagine a loved one standing in front of you. Pay attention to how your body feels when you are with him or her; try to focus on any warm or positive feelings.
- Imagine sending love, warmth, and light out of your heart to your loved one with each exhale. Saying in your own mind to your loved one, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.”
- Now imagine seeing yourself next to your loved one. Direct that same warmth, light, and love from your heart to that image of you, silently saying, “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.”
- You can turn this into a metta practice by extending love, light, and warmth with each exhale, sending it to the members of your community, state, nation, continent, and finally to everyone in the world. Saying silently to each group, “May we all be happy. May we all be peaceful. May we all live with ease.”
3. Tonglen Meditation
Tonglen is a visualization practice used in Tibetan Buddhism, and it means “giving and taking.” Simply put, you use your breath to take, or inhale, the suffering of someone, and you give, or exhale, compassion.
- To begin, find a comfortable position allowing you to feel relaxed yet alert. After taking a few cleansing breaths, follow your breath and settle the mind for five minutes.
- Next, bring to mind a person who is experiencing suffering, and imagine he/she is standing in front of you. Imagine his/her suffering as a dark cloud surrounding him/her.
- As you inhale, imagine breathing in the dark cloud. As you breathe it in, the cloud transforms into a bright, warm light of compassion at your heart area.
- When you exhale, you extend that light of compassion to him/her, alleviating his suffering.
- Continue breathing in the dark cloud of suffering, allowing the cloud to transform into warm, bright light, and directing your compassionate warmth to your loved one as you exhale.
- When you are ready to return to the present moment, take a few deep, mindful breaths.
This practice feels overwhelming for some people, so be sure to exercise caution when trying it. If you find it difficult to breathe in a dark cloud, you might want to experiment with imagining the dark cloud as a white or brightly colored cloud or as cool air instead.
Tonglen is my favorite on-the-spot practice, and it’s a great tool to keep in my back pocket. I use it to stay present when I witness or experience suffering. I have visualized a dark cloud of suffering over those affected by natural disasters. I breathe in that cloud and breathe out compassionate light. When I am face-to-face with a person who is suffering, I employ tonglen to help me stay present when I may have otherwise felt overwhelmed.
Notice what happens when you include compassion practices in your repertoire of meditations. My hope is that they bring you and many others peace during difficult times.
Our 21 Day Meditation Experience program, Renew Yourself: Mind, Body & Spirit with Deepak Chopra and international music icon, J Balvin is taking place now through August 30. Listen for free! You can also download our app onto your phone and meditate from anywhere.
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Exercise 1: How would you treat a friend?
How do you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when he or she is suffering? This exercise walks you through it.
Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break
This exercise can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion in the moment you need it most. Also available as an mp3.
Exercise 3: Exploring self-compassion through writing
Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like; something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” This exercise will help you write a letter to yourself about this issue from a place of acceptance and compassion.
Exercise 4: Supportive Touch
In this exercise you will learn how to active your parasympathetic nervous system by using supportive touch to help you feel calm, cared for and safe.
Exercise 5: Changing your critical self-talk
By acknowledging your self-critical voice and reframing its observations in a more friendly way, you will eventually form the blueprint for changing how you relate to yourself long-term. This exercise will help you learn how to do it.
Exercise 6: Self-Compassion Journal
Keeping a daily journal in which you process the difficult events of your day through a lens of self-compassion can enhance both mental and physical well-being. This exercise will help make self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness part of your daily life.
Exercise 7: Identifying what we really want
Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear. In this exercise, you’ll reframe your inner dialogue so that it is more encouraging and supportive.
Exercise 8: Taking care of the caregiver
This exercise will allow you to keep your heart open and help you care for and nurture yourself at the same time you’re caring for and nurturing others.
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We ascribe a positive connotation to those who embody compassion and tend to think of those who are compassionate as kind, gentle, warm, and empathetic.
Who comes to mind when you think of those qualities? Perhaps it’s a public figure, like Princess Diana or Mother Teresa, or people who were seen in action alleviating the suffering of others. Or maybe it’s your best friend or your mom, who are always by your side supporting you when you need it most.
We all know and love these compassionate people, and they’re often some of the happiest people we know. They light up a room and bring joy to those around them. Not only do their compassionate qualities shine, but they create domino effects and inspire others to do the same. Perhaps you consider yourself a compassionate person, noticing when someone is suffering and wishing to alleviate their pain.
Many of us, especially those who consider ourselves empaths, are quick to support our inner circle of friends, family, and loved ones with kindness and compassion, acting immediately when we notice their difficulties. While we jump out of our seat to help others, we frequently prevent one very important person from reaping the benefits of our compassionate nature.
Instead, we treat ourselves with contempt, misery, and judgment. We demand perfection, criticize our actions, and set unrealistic expectations. Imagine speaking to others the way you speak to yourself! When a friend makes a mistake, we say, “Everyone makes mistakes.” Yet when we make a mistake, we look at ourselves and say, “You’re so stupid!” When a friend shares that they don’t like the way they look, we say, “You’re so beautiful!” But when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we often experience shame and disgust. Imagine instead how it might feel to speak to yourself the way you speak to others.
The study of self-compassion, running parallel with mindfulness, has been a growing interest for many researchers and psychologists. It encourages us to take a kinder, gentler approach in our arguably most important relationship: the one we have every day with ourselves.
What Is Self-Compassion?
According to renowned researcher and therapist Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is acting the same way toward yourself as you would a friend when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. She even describes it as “healing ourselves with kindness.” Dr. Chris Germer, in another body of research, refers to self-compassion as the “warmhearted attitude of mindfulness when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.”
While compassion focuses on how we relate to others, self-compassion focuses on the inner relationship with ourselves and the desire to alleviate our own pain and suffering instead of putting our own needs on the back burner.
It seems like having self-compassion is a no-brainer. Kindness, softness, and empathy toward ourselves? Sign us up! So why is flipping the narrative and practicing compassion toward ourselves so difficult?
While being compassionate toward others typically has a positive connotation, self-compassion, on the other hand, can sometimes have a negative connotation by seeming narcissistic, self-pitying, or selfish.
It can be easy to align with that negative rationale at face value, but it’s an idea that is simply not true. While self-compassion is, of course, a focus on the self, it is one that is conducted more objectively and mindfully. It involves enabling positive momentum rather than getting wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings. Recognizing and celebrating your most admirable characteristics is actually an incredibly healthy and positive practice.
Having compassion for ourselves isn’t for the faint of heart. It challenges us to think in new ways and can bring up painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions from our past. However, confronting this dimension of ourselves can be a positive mechanism for long-term healing.
Positive Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion
Similar to the benefits of being compassionate toward others, there are an abundance of mental and physical health benefits to practicing self-compassion; this is a reason it’s gaining so much popularity.
It’s reported that practicing self-compassion can reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and rumination. Additionally, it allows us to connect more deeply with ourselves and relate in a new way to others as we feel a deeper resonance with their experiences.
A two-week online program with Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D. to support meaning, purpose & joy in your everyday life
Upcoming Course Dates
July 11, 2022 – July 24, 2022
6 online video sessions (3 sessions per week) — to view on your own schedule Homework to work on individually, or collaborate with your fellow cohort members Live Q&A with Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D. at 12:00pm PT on the final day of the course
Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D
Our intention in offering three pricing tiers is to make this course accessible to all who wish to participate. However, if you are experiencing significant challenges at this time, please contact us regarding a scholarship.
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From the Inside Out
July 11, 2022 – July 24, 2022
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A video invitation from Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.
Join Compassion Institute’s founder, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D, for this online foundation course.
During this self-directed program, you’ll discover what compassion is, and how you can make it a guiding principle and active force in your everyday life…so you can choose to live with more meaning, purpose and joy.
Over the two weeks, Jinpa—the principal author of Compassion Cultivation Training™ (CCT©) developed at Stanford University—will guide you in bringing a conscious, intentional, and systematic approach to compassion into your daily experiences.
With his guidance, you’ll explore the origins and science behind compassion as well as its practical applications.
You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in a live Q&A session in which Jinpa will address your questions about compassion.
When you know how to make compassion a guiding principle and an active force in your everyday life, you can choose to live your life with more meaning, purpose, and joy.
Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D
Building Compassion From the Inside Out
With Building Compassion From the Inside Out, you’ll:
Find out why focusing your attention and energy on compassion helps promote not only happiness and connection but also resilience, courage, and altruistic behavior.
Explore the important question:
What is the place of compassion in your own life, in your relationship with others, and in your relationship with the world we live in?
Discover the latest scientific findings on compassion, including healthcare studies that show it can lower blood pressure and reduce the perception of pain in patients.
Identify the core beliefs that you may be holding that create resistance and blocks to compassion in your life.
Gain an understanding of how, like exercising, you can in fact train your “compassion muscle.”
Find 4 powerful practices you can use to cultivate compassion as an active force in your everyday life.
This self-directed class includes:
6 online video sessions (3 sessions per week) — to take over 2 weeks A LIVE, online Q&A session with Jinpa at the end of the course Powerful video meditations led by Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D. on releasing strong emotions, intention-setting, extending compassion to others, and more
Additional video materials that explore further the topics covered in each session Access to an online classroom where you can receive support and encouragement from fellow students, post questions and enjoy a selection of meditations and interactive continuing education programs
You’ll also receive homework and a robust collection of supplementary materials, including self-reflection exercises, articles by the Dalai Lama, a Fears of Compassion self-test and much more.
Join Jinpa and a community of global students for this powerful 2-week journey to bring compassion as a guiding force into your life.
From the Inside Out
July 11, 2022 – July 24, 2022
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Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D
Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D. was trained as a monk at the Shartse College of Ganden Monastic University, South India, where he received the Geshe Lharam degree. Jinpa also holds a B.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in religious studies, both from Cambridge University.
Jinpa has been the principal English translator to H.H. the Dalai Lama since 1985, and has translated and collaborated on numerous books by the Dalai Lama including the New York Times Bestsellers Ethics for the New Millennium and The Art of Happiness, as well as Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. His own publications include A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives and translations of major Tibetan works featured in The Library of Tibetan Classics series. Jinpa is the principal author of Compassion Cultivation Training™ (CCT©) developed while at Stanford University in 2009.
A frequent speaker at various international conferences on mindfulness, compassion, and contemplative practice, Jinpa serves as an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal and is the founder and president of the Institute of Tibetan Classics. He has been a core member of the Mind and Life Institute and its Chairman of the Board since January 2012.
Definition of Self-Compassion:
aving compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.”
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.
Read more: What Self-Compassion is not
Below are the three elements of self-compassion:
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 flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation.
Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. 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 “me” 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.