Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Self-Compassion

This week our discussion focussed on the concept of self-compassion and its effects on our well-being.

Naz explained that self-compassion, like post traumatic growth, is a relatively new concept, but one that has been researched in relation to its protective effects against anxiety and depression. Engaging in activities that promote self-compassion have been shown to correlate negatively with depressive and anxiety related symptomatology - this means that the more self-compassionate we are, the less likely we are to experience anxiety and depression.

Naz told us that the definition of self-compassion used in research identifies the following three elements:
i) “self-kindness (versus self-judgement);
ii) mindful awareness of one’s emotions (versus over-identiļ¬cation), and; 
iii) understanding the universality of human suffering (versus isolation of self)”.

As a group, we intuitively understood self-compassion as being kind to ourselves, putting ourselves first and doing things that make us feel good (point i). Almost all of us were able to share examples of the way we were practicing greater self-compassion, for instance putting our own needs first, doing things that made us happy and consciously choosing to 'treat' ourselves. For some of us, being kind to ourselves meant forgiving ourselves for if we needed to cancel plans at short notice (when perhaps we had been brought up to prioritise social obligations), giving up our previous strivings to be 'perfect', accepting our limitations, as well as accepting that we might never understand why we had developed breast cancer.

Points ii) and iii) above bring a more fruitful meaning to self-compassion, allowing us to be in tune with our emotions and to understand human suffering in others. Some of the group shared their learning with us, whether this was through counselling, taking part in a mindfulness course, or using the Headspace app. Some of us shared that we found it incredibly hard to feel self-compassionate, and that our experience of breast cancer fed painfully into our low self-esteem, sometimes, but not always linked to our previous experiences. However, we all felt that we could consciously practice self-compassion, perhaps through positive self-affirmation. Those of us who found mindfulness helpful described having learned to be able to stand back from their thoughts and feelings, recognising that they are just thoughts, and not our reality.

Naz told us about recent research showing that self-compassion can reduce feelings of distress in women with a breast cancer diagnosis and women who practiced self-compassion were less distressed and felt more confident about their body image. While the research predominantly looked at how self-compassion relates to negative feelings about body image, it does talk about how self-compassion can act as a buffer against distress and help boost self-confidence.

Several members recommended 'The compassionate approach to recovering from trauma using compassion focussed therapy' - Deborah Lee and 'The mindful path to compassion' - Christopher Germer, as well as this website:

Our a private psycho-educational group offers women with a breast cancer diagnosis a safe space to share their feelings. If you would like to join, please message us on our public Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer


Many thanks to Anita for allowing us to use this beautiful image, calling to mind summer days and sunshine!

No comments: