Self-compassion refers to treating ourselves with the same kindness, care, and understanding that we would offer to a good friend. It involves recognizing and accepting our own humanness, rather than constantly criticizing and judging ourselves for our flaws and shortcomings.
Research has shown that self-compassion can have numerous benefits for our mental health and well-being. For example, it can help to reduce anxiety and depression, increase resilience, and promote a more positive body image. It can also enhance our relationships with others by decreasing feelings of envy and increasing empathy. The researchers at Stanford University have captured these reasons in a beautiful infographic.
However, despite its many benefits, self-compassion can be challenging to practice, especially in a society that often encourages self-criticism and perfectionism. Western society has romanticised the the idea of being perfect, achieving more (!), and being self-deprecating. Self-criticism as a form of "pushing one's self" can result in feeling exhausted and insecure, like a failure. The reason is due to your biology, self-criticsm results in a spike of stress hormones and activation of your sympathetic nervous system. This view of self does not encourage growth and curiosity, in fact, it encourages shut down.
Failures, from a self-compassion lens, are seen as lessons and encourage a growth mindset. This makes you curious and want to explore, try again, and learn. Self-compassion does all this through deactivating the threat pathways and activating the prosocial pathways. This makes you feel soothed and cared for.
Benefits of a regular self-compassion practice include:
An increase in overall well-being
A boost in feelings of self-worth and resilience
Higher emotional intelligence
Greater overall satisfaction in life
More social connections
Decreased anxiety, depression and fear of failure
Increased motivation to improve on mistakes
Improved body image
To cultivate self-compassion, try the following:
1. Be kind to yourself: Speak to yourself in a caring and non-judgmental way. Instead of harshly criticizing yourself for mistakes, try to acknowledge and accept your humanness.
Comfort yourself with physical gestures: Try hugging yourself or putting your hand over your heart during stressful periods.
2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment. By focusing on the present, we can better understand and accept our emotions and experiences.
3. Practice self-compassion meditation: Here are a couple of links to some free examples made by one of the world experts in self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff.
4. Seek support from others: Surround yourself with supportive people who accept and care for you, and don't hesitate to reach out to them when you're struggling.
5. Remember that everyone experiences suffering: Recognize that suffering is a universal human experience, and that you are not alone in your struggles.
Consider how you’d treat a loved one: What if someone you cared about was going through the same situation you are now? What would you say to them, and what kindhearted advice would you give to them?
6. Take care of yourself: Make time for self-care activities that you enjoy, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
Behave in a way that values you: Before saying yes to doing something, reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and values. Engage in the activity because you want to and it matches your values rather than out of guilt or anxiety.
7. Practice self-compassionate self-talk: Instead of constantly criticizing yourself, try to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and compassionate way. For example, instead of saying, "I'm so stupid, I can't do anything right," try saying, "I'm doing the best I can, and that's okay."
Become aware of your self-talk: Take a couple of minutes each day to sit in silence and listen to your inner voice. Tune into your feelings and senses while you do this. Are your thoughts positive or negative? How do they make you feel?
Practice saying affirmations: Positive affirmations like “I’m going to treat myself the way I’d treat my best friend” and “I’m going to be kind to myself” go a long way in building self-compassion.
In conclusion, self-compassion can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being. By treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, we can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, increase resilience, and improve our relationships with others. So, next time you find yourself being self-critical, try to pause, take a deep breath, and practice self-compassion.
Further reading and engagement with this topic: