Self-Compassion: Recognizing Our Common Humanity

By Sarah Spitz, LMSW

Back around Valentine's Day last year I did a post on self-compassion as a reminder that we, as much as anyone else, are deserving of love and kindness. I referenced the research of Dr. Kristin Neff who has identified three elements of self-compassion.  My last post focused on the first element of self-compassion: "self-kindness vs. self-judgement." This means that we react to ourselves with kindness and understanding when we are confronted with personal failings. As Neff says, "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."  

Today I wanted to highlight the second element of self-compassion: "common humanity vs. isolation."  Often when we feel that we have failed or made a mistake, we may feel very alone and as if we are the only person to have experienced this situation. I'm sure most of us have said some iteration of this phrase to ourselves: "I can't believe I made this mistake - I'm such a failure." We beat ourselves up and it can feel as though we are the only person flawed enough to have done what we did. How isolating does that feel?! 

A key part of self-compassion is recognizing that making mistakes is part of being human.  As Neff says, "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."  Below are two exercises to help cultivate this element of self-compassion:

Self-Compassion Journal
Neff offers journaling exercises for each of the elements of self-compassion, and for "common humanity vs. isolation" she suggests writing about how our personal experiences are connected to the larger human experience.  If you find yourself being self-critical about a mistake you made that day, take the opportunity to view it through a more universal lens.  Write about some of the factors outside of yourself that led to what happened, and also remind yourself that you are not alone in this feeling/situation. For example, write statements such as "other people have felt/feel this way" and "it's human to make mistakes."  

Loving Kindness Meditation
There are many versions of the loving kindness meditation out there, but one of the essential features is that it involves sending compassion to both ourselves and others. Inherent in that is the idea of common humanity—that we are not alone in the experience of suffering. You can either listen to a guided meditation or craft your own version that resonates with you. Below are some examples: 




Sarah Spitz is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.