One thing that I think can be helpful to people struggling with how they feel about their acne is the practice of self-compassion. Many people hesitate to feel compassionate toward themselves, even though they offer compassion freely to other people. Self-compassion is not a “pity party,” nor is it abject self-absorption—on the contrary. Self-compassion can help you to view yourself in a more objective way, seeing yourself in the same way that you see other people, rather than directing a hyper-critical microscope within. What could be less myopic and more outwardly focused than that?
Components of self-compassion
Self-compassion, as defined by researcher and expert on the subject, Dr. Kristin Neff, consists of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. These three parts (and mindfulness in particular, as you will see later on), can help people with acne see themselves in a different way: as part of a greater whole, as a person worthy of empathy just like any other person, and as a competent, mindful and self-aware person.
The first component of self-compassion is self-kindness. This goes hand-in-hand, in a way, with the tenets of REBT as discussed elsewhere in this chapter: rather than entertaining irrational and negative thoughts when we feel we have failed (such as by having acne), we are kind to ourselves; just as we would be kind to others in a similar situation.
Think about it. If a good friend has acne, you wouldn’t (hopefully) blame and shame them for not eating the right way (especially, since they don’t even know what the right way is). And you wouldn’t look down on and make your friend feel worthless. I think we can agree nobody deserves friends like that. And yet, many people routine treat themselves this way.
You would realize your friend is suffering, offer empathy, and try to console them. All I’m asking is that you extend the same courtesy also towards yourself.
Embracing your common humanity is the second component of self-compassion. Rather than viewing yourself as especially awful or uniquely flawed, accept and embrace the fact that you are a human being, and that part of being a member of the human race is having flaws—including acne. We are all just people looking to live our lives in peace. There is no reason you deserve less compassion than anyone else, even and perhaps especially when that compassion comes from within.
Being aware, or mindful, is the third component of self-compassion as outlined by Dr. Neff. Part of mindfulness is being aware of your own thoughts and feelings in the moment, without initially taking actions to stifle them. Mindfulness involves being honest with yourself: rather than building an empire of negativity based on a given bad feeling you have (or, at the other end of the spectrum, suppressing that feeling and refusing to acknowledge its existence at all), you feel the feeling in the moment that it happens. You don’t judge the feeling or react to it in the moment it occurs, you just open yourself up to allowing it to happen to you.
Like mindfulness, you can only develop self-compassion by practicing it – not reading about it.
Dr. Kristin Neff has guided meditations and exercises designed to cultivate self-compassion on her website. Look through the exercises and try some that you feel the most comfortable with. Out of the guided meditations, I recommend trying at least these two.
- Listen to the 5-minute Self-Compassion Break daily for two to three weeks to cultivate a more compassionate way of relating to yourself.
- Try the Soften, soothe, allow: Working with emotions in the body meditation when you are going through a difficult moment. That is, the moment when you feel depressed, anxious, or under some other negative emotion.
The 20-minute Self-Compassion/Loving-Kindness Meditation is a longer version of the Self-Compassion Break. The self-compassion meditation can be helpful and liberating when you aren’t feeling good, or when you feel like you need emotional support.
Other than this, I can recommend two books about self-compassion:
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristen Neff.
- Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy: Mindfulness-Based Practices for Healing and Transformation by Tim Desmont. This one is aimed more to therapists, but I found the different perspective and sessions transcripts used as examples helpful.
I’m sure there are other good books about self-compassion, but these are the only ones I’ve read and thus able to recommend.