Self-compassion and kindness toward oneself are concepts that are gaining popularity, especially in the United States. However, for many international students, this may be a new concept — or one that doesn’t necessarily align with cultural values.
What is self-compassion?
- Compassion is a concept that describes the mind’s ability to recognize pain and its universality, and the capacity to use empathy and kindness in the face of pain.
- Self-compassion is an attitude focused on the self. K.D. Neff (2003) defined it as “being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness.” Self-compassion involves “offering non-judgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies and failures so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience.”
How do we experience pain and suffering?
We all experience pain and suffering in various forms and areas of our lives. For international students, pain and suffering may be the separation from friends or family. It could also be the new culture you navigate while pursuing an education in a country where you must learn and perform in English.
Pain does not have to be physical; we have to recognize that sometimes we feel emotional or psychological pain. These pains can take the form of self- or other-imposed pressure to do well and support family back at home.
A psychological understanding of self-compassion “helps us develop a particular orientation of mind that is motivational in nature, focused on attentional sensitivity to suffering, committed to relieve suffering by recognizing the universality of pain in human experience and one’s ability to meet that pain and suffering with calmness.” (Montero-Marin, et al., 2018)
Be Kind to Yourself! Examples of Self-Compassion
Anyone can practice self-compassion and become good at it. As an international student with your own cultural values, you may want to engage in an exploration of how self-compassion can align or even support your values and your well-being. In the examples below, you’ll see ways you can start developing self-compassion.
- Physical: Through your body. Practicing relaxation; engaging in exercise; treating yourself with a sweet treat; and receiving a soothing touch, like giving a friend a hug (if they agree) or providing yourself with a self-hug.
- Mental: By acknowledging your thoughts. Meditating; chanting a mantra; practicing positive self-talk; visualizing your goals and reminding yourself that achieving them is a process.
- Emotional: Naming and validating your feelings. Accepting your emotions (all of them); engaging in enjoyable activities; allowing yourself time to spend with your feelings, without trying to push them away; and practicing forgiveness.
- Relational: Connecting with others. Spending time with friends or meeting new people, practicing gratitude, expressing kindness to others, and listening to your friends.
- Spiritual: Nourishing your spirit. Being outside in nature; spending time with loved ones (Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, phone calls all count!); taking time to identify your values; and practicing and honoring your cultural traditions (e.g., cooking a favorite meal that reminds you of home).
Remember: It Takes Time
Becoming kinder and self-compassionate takes time, so allow yourself to slowly try different things and engage in the ones you like the most. If you need help learning how to do that, you can always reach out to counselors at the CMHC by calling (512) 471-3515 or try the free Thrive App.
Dr. Arna Erega, LPC
Diversity, Counseling and Outreach Specialist for International Students
Montero-Marin J., Kuyken W., Crane C., Gu J., Baer R., Al-Awamleh A.A., Akutsu S., Araya-Véliz C., Ghorbani N., Chen Z.J., Kim M.-S., Mantzios M., Rolim dos Santos D.N., Serramo López L.C., Teleb A.A., Watson P.J., Yamaguchi A., Yang E. and García-Campayo J. (2018). Self-compassion and cultural values: A cross-cultural study of self-compassion using a multitrait-multimethod (MTMM) analytical procedure. Frontiers in Psychology 9:2638. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02638
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self Identity, 2:85-101. doi:10.1080/15298860390129863