Many people are good are caring for others but not themselves. But caring for ourselves (Self-compassion) is an essential part of maintaining health and wellbeing.
We have described self-compassion elsewhere in greater detail but as a reminder, self-compassion is a 4-part process that involves the act of being aware of our own pain, normalising this part of being human, acting in a kinds and caring way towards ourselves and finally taking action to alleviate the pain and move forward.
Why is self-compassion important?
Perhaps you are wondering why self-compassion matters. Why should you try and be kind to yourself? There are 3 very good reasons for this.
Caring for others and by extension ourselves is important for the survival of the human race.
Mental health and wellbeing
Self-compassion is strongly linked to wellbeing. People who are good at showing themselves compassion have less mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. They also tend to rate the quality of their life higher than people who are not good at self-compassion.
Balancing our emotions
Self-compassion can be a key tool at our disposal when our emotions get too big and overwhelming. To understand how this works we must understand 3 systems in our body – namely Threat, Drive and Soothe.
Understanding Threat, Drive and Soothe
Paul Gilbert a Clinical Psychologist who has done a lot of research into self-compassion his research explains how our emotions can be governed by the threat, drive and soothe systems.
We are all wired to detect threats and take action to survive. However, we do not live in cave man days anymore and for the most part our days do not include actual physical threats to our lives. But as the brain likes to think (and overthink) we are able to trigger our threat system through comparisons with others, small mistakes we might make or worries about what might happen in the future.
These threats trigger an emotional response such as anxiety, anger and depression. They also trigger the response to fight, flight or freeze.
As the threat system is being triggered by small, everyday events, it can mean our system goes into overdrive and is active too much of the time without any real danger. Being present.
Out drive system pushes us to achieve, to try new things and to be successful. It energises us to get things done and can be immensely helpful. But it can also be
If we are constantly being pushing to be successful but not actually being successful (as no one can be 100% of the time), it is easy to flip into threat system described above.
For example, if you work in a competitive job and you are constantly being pushed to achieve targets and goals you will use drive to achieve these (e.g. I must achieve). However, if you do not meet these targets you will quickly use the threat system (e.g. I have failed so everything is ruined, and bad stuff will happen).
This can then become a very unhealthy pattern of drive, drive, drive and threat, threat, threat.
The soothe system has the capacity to calm both the threat system and drive system when they go into overdrive. It is impossible to be in threat or drive at the same time as soothe. Our soothe system is at play in times when we are calm and content. For example when you are chilled out listening to music.
Kindness and care stimulate the soothe system. We can receive this from others, but we can also provide it ourselves. Our soothe system allows us to balance our emotions activated by the threat and drive systems.
For most people being compassionate towards themselves and operating the soothe system does not come naturally. It is often much easier for us to be self-critical of ourselves than it is to be self-compassionate.
But importantly, if you are not good at being compassionate towards yourself, you can learn the tools to do so. The psychologists at our practice can help you achieve this. If you would like to find out more, please contact us on 6381 0071.