Most of us from a young age are taught how to be kind, considerate and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. This becomes even more true for individuals brought up in abusive or unloving homes.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is taken from Buddhist psychology and refers to how we can relate to the self with kindness. Self-compassion or self-love is NOT to be confused with arrogance, conceit or selfishness. In actuality, arrogance and selfishness stem from the absence of self-love. Self-compassion has nothing to do with faux superiority and everything to do with being kind and gentle with oneself. It allows us to treat ourselves as we do our greatest loved ones. Instead of harshly judging ourselves for any personal shortcomings, we can instead give ourselves unconditional love and acceptance.
But what does it really mean to be kind with ourselves? It means that on a day-to-day basis we are mindful of being courteous, supportive and compassionate with ourselves. Too many individuals treat themselves with harsh judgement instead of compassion.
Why is this important? Because self-compassion helps us recognize our unconditional worth and value. It allows us to recognize though we my sometimes make bad decisions, we’re not bad people.
Research, over the past decade, has shown the parallel between self care and psychological wellbeing. Those who recognize self-compassion also tend to have better connections with others, are reportedly happier with their own lives, and have a higher satisfaction with life overall. Self-compassion also correlates with less shame, fear of failure, anxiety and depression.
A lack of self-compassion can take a toll on our personal and romantic relationships. How we treat ourselves is typically an indicator of how we let others treat us. The less love and compassion we have for ourselves the more likely we end up in abusive and dysfunctional relationships. But, when we have self-compassion, we are less likely to depend on others to validate our self-worth or “complete us.”
Now that you know the what and why of self-compassion, let’s look at the how.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Treat Yourself as You Would a Small Child
You would never harshly judge or belittle a small child the way you do yourself. You would never treat a small child the way you may sometimes treat yourself. You wouldn’t call a child “stupid” for making a poor decision. And you certainly wouldn’t tell them they are unlovable and “will wind up alone forever.” You would only want to help and love that child. When you begin to treat yourself as you would a small child, you begin to show yourself the same love, gentleness and kindness.
It may be hard treating yourself with such kindness in the beginning because you are not used to it. But in those moments, decide to treat yourself as you would a child and much progress will be made.
Self-criticism is a mental habit. In order to replace self-criticism with self-compassion, we must practice mindfulness.
Every minute your mind is handling millions of bits of information, though you consciously are only aware of a few of them. This is to say we all have scripts or programs running in our minds 24/7. These scripts and programs are running our lives, insisting we have certain behaviors and make certain decisions.
Some of these scripts are the ones that tell us how “bad” or “unlovable” we are. They’ve been running since we were kids. The way to quiet these scripts is to become more mindful of your own mind.
When you begin to have a feeling or reaction to something, stop and ask yourself WHO is feeling that? Is it the compassionate self or the program running? If it’s the program, thank the program for what it has done and release it. When you find yourself caught up in that negative noise and mind chatter, stop, take a deep breath, and refocus your thoughts on something more positive about yourself. What qualities do you like about yourself? What have you done recently that you feel proud about? It can be anything, “I am always on time,” or, “I made the cashier smile.”
When you do find yourself having negative thoughts, DO NOT chastise yourself for having them. Thank those negative thoughts and tell them you no longer need them, then send them on their way to make room for positivity.
Good Will vs Good Feelings
Self-compassion is a conscious act of kindness we show ourselves; it’s not a way to alleviate emotional pain. Life happens, and we can’t always avoid negative or sad feelings. Never mistake self-compassion as a tool to ignore your deep and rich emotional life.
These are just a few ways you can begin to cultivate self-compassion. If you’d like to explore more options or talk to someone about your feelings of self-rejection and judgement, please get in touch with me. I’d be happy to discuss how cognitive therapy may help.
Give Yourself Permission to Be Human
At the end of the day, self-compassion is about being okay with our own humanity. It’s important to recognize that being human means being flawed, and that’s okay. You and the rest of the world have imperfections in common.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes and accept yourself, warts and all. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much lighter and happier you will feel.
While it’s incredibly important to learn self-compassion, it’s not always easy cultivating new thought and behavioral patterns on your own. A therapist can give you the support, encouragement and guidance you need to help you make these positive changes in your life.
If you or a loved one has struggled with self-compassion and would like to speak with someone, please give me a call. Let’s discuss how I may best be able to help.