Despite the power of technology to connect us with others, we live in a society of loneliness, polarization, and isolation. The social media platforms originally designed to connect us are instead driving us apart. Not to mention the global pandemic that has kept us physically distanced from our community members.
Although it might appear counterintuitive, offering yourself a healthy dose of self-compassion can foster the feeling of connectedness. In fact, research indicates that people with high levels of self-compassion have healthier relationships.
Yes, self-compassion can connect you with others.
How is that possible?
1. Self-compassion reminds you of common humanity
According to the main researcher of self-compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., common humanity is one of the three key elements of self-compassion (along with mindfulness and self-kindness).
The term “common humanity” packs quite a punch. At its core, common humanity implies that you are human, just like everyone else. As a human, you face struggles, experience highs, make mistakes, and you want to be loved and appreciated. While our individual struggles differ, we share the commonality of suffering.
When you keep common humanity in mind, you don’t feel alone in your suffering. You remember that others struggle, too, even if their social media feeds indicate otherwise.
2. Self-compassion encourages you to reach out for support
Throughout the eight-week course Mindful Self-Compassion, participants are reminded to ask themselves this important question whenever they’re struggling: “What do I need?”
What answer arises when you ask yourself that question?
You might find that you need to vent, you need a hug, or you need to be in community. Self-compassion doesn’t have to be a one-man show. Your willingness to share your vulnerabilities with the people around you will strengthen your connection to them.
When you’re dealing with heartache, grief, confusion, or despair, consider reaching out to friends who listen skillfully. These are people who will hear you with open ears and without trying to solve your problem and without judging you. If you don’t know if your friend is a skillful listener, you might want to start off by saying, “Do you have time for me to vent? I don’t need you to fix it, I just need an ear.”
3. Self-compassion helps you show up
You’ve probably heard the adage, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and there’s a good chance you’ve had first-hand experience trying to pour from said cup. I’m guessing it didn’t work very well.
Self-compassion gives you permission to set boundaries. It helps you take care of your body and mind. It allows you to get the rest you need, and it offers you grace when you make mistakes.
When you tend to yourself with self-compassion, you keep your cup full. That allows you to be a more present, loving, and supportive friend to others. To strengthen your capacity for compassion, try these meditations.
4. Self-compassion brings you into the present moment
As I already mentioned, mindfulness is one of the main pillars of self-compassion.
Creator of the popular course Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” in his book “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”
You can’t comfort yourself if you don’t first notice that you need comfort. By tuning into your sensations, emotions, and thoughts, you can answer the question, “What do I need?”
When you become present to notice what’s happening within, you’ll also be present to what’s happening around you. This allows you to tend to the suffering of others.
When I teach compassion, I often ask my students, “How can I possibly notice that you’re suffering if my head is buried in my phone or if my mind is wandering?”
Being in the present moment allows compassion for yourself and others to unfold. If cultivating mindfulness through meditation doesn't resonate with you, try out these exercises instead.
Give it a try
You can use a simple breathing technique to practice offering yourself compassion while also tending to the suffering of others. This will help you feel connected with others while still tending to your own struggles.
- Start by finding a grounded position and turning inward. It might be helpful to close your eyes, or you can cast your gaze down and unfocus your eyes.
- Take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
- Imagine that you’ve moved your nose to your chest so that you’re breathing directly into the heart and out from the heart. Take several breaths in and out of the heart.
- On the next inhale, imagine that you’re filling your heart with healing warmth and light. This warmth and light eases your suffering. Just focus on the inhale for a minute or two, bathing yourself in self-compassion.
- Next, begin to also focus on the exhale, and send that warmth and light out to someone with whom you’d like to feel connected. Perhaps you’ll choose someone in your life who is struggling or someone who needs some love.
- Continue breathing in and out of the heart, alternating between offering yourself compassion and sending out compassion for someone else.