The Importance of Self Compassion
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life."
Christopher K. Germer (meditation practitioner)
Self-compassion is the act of being kind, warm and understanding to one’s self during times of pain, personal shortcomings or difficulties. Yet, how many of us actually practice self-compassion?
If a loved one or friend came to you berating themselves over a recent mistake or referring to themselves or their appearance in a negative manner, how would you respond? I am guessing you would probably be moved by their suffering and respond in a non-judgemental way, offering them warmth, love and positive words of reassurance and encouragement? Our ability to offer others compassion during their own suffering, demonstrates our understanding and acceptance that part of being human means sometimes being fallible. Yet, why do we often have a different rule for ourselves?
I have worked with many clients who have been trapped in a cycle of negative self-talk or daily put downs. They give themselves a hard time when they make mistakes or don’t meet the high expectations they place on themselves. They enter treatment with low self-worth or deep-rooted troubles, unaware of how much their lack of self-compassion affects this.
When I ask them how they would treat a loved one, friend or even a stranger who came to them with the same mistake or difficulty as their own, I am yet to have a client who was unable to recognise that this person needed compassion, support, warmth and encouragement. Yet why were they unable to apply the same rule to themselves?
There can be a misconception that being self-compassionate is selfish or self-indulgent. Some see it as a form of self-pity and fear that if they allow themselves to be self-compassionate, it might lead to them lowering the expectations and standards they place on themselves, leading to increased inadequacies.
Yet the truth is, people who practice self-compassion tend to have a healthier psychological well-being, greater happiness and less incidences of issues such as anxiety, stress and depression. We all fail sometimes, or fall short of the expectations we place on ourselves, knowing this and accepting this, allows us to be more at peace with ourselves. The ability to recognise that this is something we all share, something we all experience, can help us to view our difficulties or mistakes less in isolation, weakening their influence and their power over us.
Here are four small techniques to incorporate in your everyday life in order to become more self-compassionate:
Picture yourself as a small child:
1. Next time you catch yourself giving yourself a hard time about something which you feel has not quite met your expectations, or talking negatively to yourself about something you did or didn’t do, imagine yourself as a small child. Picture yourself sitting on a chair opposite you, with your legs dangling off the floor and deliver the same harsh words and treatment. If this doesn’t work for you, then imagine another child possibly your own or a child of someone you might know. Most of us instinctively know children need to be nurtured, they need to be given love, encouragement and support during times of sadness or pain. And, so do we.
Allow yourself to reflect on the critical self-talk and the impact it has on your self-worth and confidence:
2. We can get so used to critiquing ourselves or our mistakes, that we don’t stop to question our own harsh words. They can run through our heads or out of our mouths at such an automated speed and force, that we freely accept them. Try to catch yourself and allow yourself to take in that critical self-talk. Write it down and look at the words in black and white and ask yourself, “where do those words come from?”, “are they helping the situation?”, “do they help you to feel better about yourself or your life?”, “do they motivate you to pick yourself up and carry on?”, “do they comfort you?”. Trying to stay present in the moment and actually reflecting on what we say to ourselves on a frequent basis can enable us to realise the damaging effect it has on our self-worth and confidence.
Practice positive self-affirmations:
3. Self-compassion can take a while to master, especially if you have spent a long-time criticising yourself. In order to break the automatic cycle of negative self-talk and put downs, have some positive affirmations at hand that you can use to balance out the situation.
For example, next time you are going through a hard time and find yourself saying something along the lines of “I’m so stupid, I can’t do this”, think of a way that you can reframe this statement, so that is kinder to yourself and not so damaging to your sense of worth, such as “ Ok, so right now I am finding some things a challenge, but as frustrating as that is for me, it doesn’t mean I am stupid”. And, if you find the positive affirmation difficult, think about what you would say to a friend in a similar situation and then apply that to yourself.
Accept that being imperfect, is being human:
4. Self-compassion is about being kind and caring to ourselves during times we may be struggling or finding things difficult. Therefore, it can really help to remind yourself that making mistakes, failing, feeling disappointed at times, are all part of being human. Regardless of who we are, or how old we are, we all have this common experience. When we accept that no one is perfect, it allows us to feel less alone with our experiences and more connected with others.
“Remember, you have been been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself instead and see what happens”
Louise Hay (Author of "You can heal yourself”)