You may have heard about self-compassion. It’s often spoken about but not always taken on board. This is unfortunate given that plenty of research supports its benefit in enhancing our wellbeing.
So what exactly is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is to treat ourselves with kindness and empathy when experiencing challenging and painful situations. A pioneer in self-compassion research, Dr. Kristin Neff, identifies three core components to self-compassion:
1) Self-kindness: being supportive, gentle and sympathetic towards ourselves during difficult times, rather than criticising and judging;
2) Common humanity: recognising that we are all imperfect – that everyone has flaws, makes mistakes, and fails, and that this is simply part of being human;
3) Mindfulness: being aware of the present moment and accepting the reality that comes with it, while also bringing awareness to our thoughts and emotions without judgement, avoidance or repression.
Self-compassion can be cultivated by practicing these three things when we are struggling. That is, being aware of the pain you are experiencing, acknowledging that this is a normal human experience and that you are not alone, and treating yourself with kindness and care.
But wouldn’t that mean I am being self-indulgent or too ‘soft’ on myself?
Showing yourself compassion doesn’t mean that you are being self-indulgent or ‘soft’. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t working hard enough, that you don’t care as much about something as someone else, or that you will sit around doing nothing. In fact, research has found people who are accepting of their failures to be more motivated to reach their full potential. Additionally, when we reach challenges and respond to them with compassion, we are less likely to break down.
Ok. But why all the fuss?
The growing body of research literature on self-compassion has demonstrated that by responding to ourselves with kindness and care, we increase our feeling of safety and connection with others, which helps to foster greater psychological well-being.
Research has found self-compassion to reduce anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, perfectionism and shame, and to increase life satisfaction, happiness, motivation, connectedness, self-confidence and optimism. And for all the parents reading this, it has also been linked to more satisfaction when in a care-giving role!
That’s nice, but why do I find it so hard?!
Ok, so responding to myself compassionately when I make mistakes, fail in some way or when I’m experiencing pain and hurt sounds like a good move. But why is it so much harder to feel compassion towards ourselves than towards someone else?
Well, there are a few reasons. Our society often tells us to be “strong” and silent when we are facing difficulties, in which we learn to repress our unpleasant feelings. Society also often tells us is to think positively, therefore pushing negative and “unwanted” thoughts and emotions aside. But unfortunately, the more we push away unwanted thoughts and emotions, the more frequent and strongly they return, taking away a powerful coping mechanism – comforting ourselves.
You may also assume that to increase your motivation and achieve your goals you must criticise and blame yourself for your shortcomings, and sometimes you may be doing so unknowingly. It is very hard to be self-compassionate when we don’t realise how critical we are being on ourselves. We all have a critical inner voice that says to us, “I never get it right”, “I should have done better”, “I can’t believe I said such a stupid thing”, “I’m an idiot”, and many more self-critical statements – instead of responding to yourself with support and comfort, we tend to berate ourselves and listen to that inner critic.
Other factors which make it difficult to cultivate self-compassion are our own early experiences, and our brain being hard wired to be on alert and continually look for threats. These days, threats are no longer tigers or wolves which our ancestors had to protect themselves from, but other things such as the way we look, making small mistakes, how we socially interact, and our own perceptions of how we are flawed.
So how can I be more self-compassionate?
There are many ways you can practice responding to mistakes, failures and flaws with kindness and comfort. Here are a few ideas:
- Practice mindfulness to become aware and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings i.e., notice when you are struggling
- Practice forgiving yourself for past actions or judgements
- Give yourself permission to not be perfect as you are human
- Remember that you are not alone – others experience the same uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, make mistakes, and have some flaws just like you
- Practice a self-care routine
- Give yourself a soothing touch such as putting your hand on your heart
- Treat yourself as you would treat your friend who was going through a challenging time
- Write a compassionate letter to yourself
- Work with a supportive psychologist
A fantastic website to find out more is www.self-compassion.org and also includes research articles, and guided videos and meditations. Or how about take the “how self-compassionate are you?” test which you can also find on the website.
We understand that being self-compassionate can be really tricky. If you would like to learn more about how you can foster self-compassion, please contact us on 6381 0071 and we will gladly assist you.
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