Self-compassion and Pain Tolerance: Be Kind to Yourself to Experience Relief

man laying on ground with cat

Contributor: Rachael Mattice is the Content Manager for Sovereign Health Group, an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider. Rachael received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Purdue University.

People with high self-esteem are like the biggest kid on the playground. They feel special, as though they are fundamentally better than their peers. They have complete faith in themselves and believe that they can succeed in anything as long as they try hard enough.

The tricky thing is that no person in the universe can always succeed. The human condition is imperfect. People make mistakes. There will always be moments when individuals feel lost or helpless, no matter how strong they are.

When self-worth is tied to how much better one is than other people, it can be crushed by anything from a poor test grade to a serious illness.

Self-Esteem Compared to Self-Compassion

Many people are familiar with the concept of self-esteem, but fewer are familiar with the concept of self-compassion. Self-esteem is about liking or valuing yourself, often in comparison to other people; for example, “I’m better than the other candidates, so why didn’t I get the job?”

Self-compassion, meanwhile, is about being kind to yourself rather than being judgmental or critical; for example, “I didn’t get the job, but that’s okay – I’ll try again.” Self-compassion provides all of the positives of self-esteem (e.g., greater happiness, less depression) with none of the negatives (e.g., narcissism, frustration, jealousy).

The Components of Self-Compassion

dog-273526_640Self-compassion is made up of three components:

  1. Self-kindness involves accepting the chronic pain for what it is, being kind and understanding toward yourself in instances of pain or failure rather than being frustrated or self-critical.
  2. Common humanity involves knowing that other people are dealing with chronic pain as well, realizing that pain or failure is part of the human condition. This forges a connection with other people and prevents isolation.
  3. Mindfulness involves focusing on the pain rather than pushing it away, focusing on painful thoughts and feelings rather than ignoring them. When pain is recognized for what it is — a sensation — rather than an identity, it can prevent you from losing your identity to suffering.

Self-Compassion for Chronic Pain

Practicing self-compassion is an excellent way to deal with chronic pain. When most people experience pain, there are two sources of suffering: primary suffering and secondary suffering. Primary suffering is what people think of when they hear the word “pain,” such as aches, soreness or sharp stabs. Secondary suffering is made up of the thoughts and emotions surrounding the painful experience, such as hopelessness, anger or fear.

Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness all serve to diminish secondary suffering and increase pain tolerance. People who practice self-compassion learn that pain is a sensation that is happening to their body – not something that defines them.

“Compassion involves opening up your heart,” explains Susan Bauer-Wu in her book on pain management. “It is the genuine desire to alleviate mental and physical suffering – for yourself and others.”

Tips for Practicing Self-Compassion

Young woman sitting on the floor near wall ,doing yogaHere are some tips for practicing self-compassion:

Notice When Self-talk Becomes Negative

Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Is it positive, neutral or negative? When faced with failure – or pain – do you harshly blame yourself?

Even if you’re determined to practice self-compassion, negative thoughts still get in there. Recognize when your self-talk becomes negative and do your best to correct it.

Treat Yourself as You Would Treat a Friend

A helpful exercise for practicing self-compassion is to imagine a friend or loved one in your place. What would you say to them? Would you criticize them or comfort them? Most people find it easier to show compassion to others than toward themselves.

Accept the Pain

Experiencing pain or failure is part of being human. When you feel pain, don’t distance yourself from the feeling, but instead acknowledge that it is present: “I am uncomfortable right now.” Pushing away feelings of unpleasantness can only make them stronger. Feel the pain, but do not wallow in it.

Self-compassion is not an alternative to treatment, but it can make a big difference in quality of life. Why not give it a go? After all, being a little kinder to yourself never hurts.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one struggling from addiction and chronic pain found ways to be kind to yourself?

About the Author:

Rachael Mattice is the Content Manager for Sovereign Health Group, an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider. Rachael is a creative and versatile journalist and digital marketing specialist with an extensive writing and editing background.

Her portfolio includes numerous quality articles on various topics published in print and digital formats at award-winning publications and websites. To learn more about Sovereign Health Group’s mental health treatment programs and read patient reviews, visit Follow Sovereign Health Group on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 1st, 2015
Published on