If you’re lucky, many people admire and care for you. If you are extremely fortunate you have people in your life who accept you for all that you are, at your best and at your worst. Do you count yourself among them? In other words, do you give yourself the same self-compassion that is such a prized gift from those who love you?
What Is It?
Compassion is a “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” To practice self-compassion is to soothe and support yourself when you experience pain, disappointment or fear. It can range from giving yourself time and space to grieve after the end of a relationship, to being okay with your jiggly thighs instead of hating yourself for them.
Self-compassion is a foreign concept to most of us. We tend to be our own harshest critic. You may believe that being kind and forgiving toward yourself is a sign of weakness. How will you ever be motivated if there is no backlash inside your brain at every failure, misstep, or lack? Research shows that constant inner negativity will ultimately lead to withdrawal and maybe even depression. Self-compassion, however, helps us to relax, grow, and ultimately flourish
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., positive psychologist and author of Self-Compassion, describes her topic as embracing negative feelings (instead of trying to replace them with positive ones) and adding to that awareness, self-care and connectedness. We need to recognize that suffering is universal and human. Treating ourselves with kindness begins the healthy cycle of positive emotions.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
1) Self-compassionate people are better able to form close, meaningful and mutually supportive relationships. A highly self-critical person will tend to assume their partner is judging them as harshly as they judge themselves. This leads to unnecessary conflicts and hypersensitivity. (p. 30)
2) As a parent, modeling self-compassion is an enormous gift to your children. (Where do you think that harsh voice in our heads usually originates?) More than likely, you’ve berated yourself out loud, saying something like, “I’m so fat,” or “I always get lost!” Instead say something like, “That was really stupid, but I love you anyway.” It will feel strange and your kids will probably laugh at you, but imagine how the tension of the moment will evaporate!
3) Allowing for self-compassion opens you to more authenticity. By accepting your human frailties, you’re better able to embrace your individuality. You can let go of the need to conform to avoid being judged by others.
4) Now that you’ve got your own back, you can feel safe and centered. Because you’re not expending energy berating your impulsive purchase or the angry words you let fly at work, you have more energy to focus outward. You’re better equipped to grow in a positive direction and meet your goals with a calm self-assurance.
5) By now you should be feeling pretty good! And that’s what positive psychologists have found, as well. Self-compassion promotes a feeling of mental well-being as it protects against anxiety and depression.
Negative self talk is a bad habit, but you can change it. Awareness is always the first step. Recognize how you react to your own mistakes or faults, and practice an alternative, more compassionate voice. It may help to actually give that voice another identity. What would your best friend say to you?
More soon on the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem.
Neff, Kristin, Ph.D., (2011) Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, New York, William Morrow.
photo of baby from www.pictures.folsol.com.