Think of a time when a close friend or family member was feeling really bad about themselves or struggling in some way. How did you respond to this person, especially at a time when you were feeling your best? Most likely, you responded with kind and encouraging words. You may have given them a hug or supported them while they cried. You may have even responded with a little bit of tough love, with the overall message being that they will get through this and come out stronger in the end.
Now, think about the times when you yourself are feeling really bad or struggling in some way. How do you typically respond to yourself? Most likely, your inner dialogue isn’t the most kind or encouraging, you definitely aren’t giving yourself a hug, and your tough love is a lot tougher and little less loving.
When we feel compassion for others, we are able to see that suffering and imperfection are a part of the human experience, and that a little bit of kindness can go a long way. However, often times, we aren’t as ready or willing to show that same compassion to ourselves when we fail or make a mistake.
Why is it that we are more likely to show compassion to others and less likely to show the same compassion to ourselves?
This is where self-compassion comes in! Self-compassion is the practice of showing yourself the same compassion you would show someone you care about in moments of failure or difficulty. It’s showing yourself understanding and kindness when you would usually ignore your pain or show harsh judgement. For many of us, it is all too easy to fall into self-criticism when we fail or struggle, or feel inadequate, but research has shown that self-criticism produces a variety of negative consequences, including lower self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
When we replace self-criticism with self-compassion, it allows us to recognize our limitations and flaws while showing ourselves kindness as we accept them or work through them. Self-criticism tears us down and tells us “I am bad”, while self-compassion focuses on showing ourselves kindness while changing or accepting the behavior that is making us unhappy. Self-compassion helps us to recognize that no one is perfect and that imperfection is part of being a human being.
What does self-compassion look like?
Mindfulness: Recognizing when you are stressed or struggling without judging yourself. You don’t have to sit with your emotions forever, but take time to notice how you are feeling.
Self-Kindness: Being supportive and understanding towards yourself during tough times. Think of how you would respond to someone you really care about and respond to yourself in the same way.
Common Humanity: Knowing you are not alone. Our failures and mistakes make us human. Know that you are probably not the first person to have this experience and probably won’t be the last. There can be comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone in how you feel or what you’ve experienced.
Research has shown a link between self-compassion and better emotional coping skills and increased compassion for others. By adopting the practice of self-compassion, we start the first step of replacing self-criticism with self-kindness and lay the foundation for healthier relationships with ourselves. When we have healthier relationships with ourselves, they can lead to healthier relationships with others – bringing us closer to communities without violence and abuse.
To learn more about self-compassion and test your own level of self-compassion, visit www.selfcompassion.org