What is Self-Compassion?
Let us take a minute and think of any instance in the past where you had faced some failure or had made a mistake. It is possible that when you do this more than one instance might pop up in your head but for this exercise let us stick to one. Now try and recollect the words you used for yourself when you experienced failure or made a mistake? Do you remember using any harsh words or a negative tone? If yes, then now imagine your friend/loved one had made the same mistake and had told you about it. How would you talk to them? Would you use the same harsh language or tone? Or would you be understanding, listen to their side of the story, and be kind to them?
# Be kind is written with blue ink on a white paper.The paper on the ground. One part of the background is in focus and is covered with green leaves and brown soil. The other part of the background is out of focus and the image of the leaves is blurred.
Photo by Lisa Fotios https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-printer-paper-with-be-kind-text-on-plants-3972441/
What is self-compassion?
Often times there is a lack of kindness and empathy when we talk to ourselves. Self-compassion means to be kind and understanding to yourself. It means to offer support to ourselves when we are going through hardships or suffering. The language and tone we use is soft and supportive. We often provide support and understand our loved ones when they are going through a failure. However, we don’t provide that same support or understanding to ourselves when we go through a failure. As we feel that we will not work on shortcomings or might become lazy and just give up. It could also be because we haven’t seen people engage in this kind of self-talk. In our society tough love is considered to be a norm. The viewpoint from our lens changes and that same non-judgemental attitude towards others changes to self-judgment and criticism. Being compassionate towards oneself doesn't mean giving excuses or being self-indulgent. It means to be aware that you are a human being by making mistakes and facing failures are a part of life. With this lens of acknowledging that difficulties are a shared human experience, we feel more connected to others as we know happens to others as well. Essentially what this means is when we understand that everyone goes through ups and downs and that failure is part of life. We are more open to being considerate of our shortcomings or mistakes as we are able to relate to others. We don’t feel we are the only ones going through this experience and feel isolated. Being self-compassionate doesn’t mean that we hide or suppress our feelings either. It means finding a balance between expressing our anger or disappointment and being mindful of self-loathing and criticism. Mindfulness is a critical component of self-compassion. When we are busy judging ourselves in this process we fail to acknowledge our emotions and lose our perspective. We become fixated on things that are wrong with us or the world. During such times it is beneficial to recognize our pain and provide support to ourselves.
What is not considered to be self-compassion?
Self-compassion is different from self-pity. In self-pity, we adopt an attitude of helplessness and exaggerate our problems. In fact, self-compassionate people have a better perspective on their problems and don’t tend to exaggerate or distort their suffering (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion is different from self-indulgence. Being compassionate towards oneself doesn’t mean that we don’t hold ourselves accountable or we don’t do things necessary for our growth. On the contrary, being compassionate means we won’t completely drown ourselves in failure and misery but work towards our improving ourselves. Self-compassion has also been positively related to mastery-oriented goals. An individual who operates from a self-compassionate lens will want to improve at a particular skill as they are intrinsically motivated to learn and grow. When we view ourselves with kindness and allow ourselves to make mistakes we are open to learning without worrying about external validation or criticism.
Self-compassion and self-esteem
Self-esteem is our evaluation of self and determining our own worth. Self-esteem is usually based on multiple external factors. It is based on our successes or failures. It is also affected by our childhood experiences and the messages we receive from significant others. If our worth is associated with external factors like marks, accomplishments, money, status, etc then we start evaluating ourselves based on these things. It is also impacted by how we are perceived in the eyes of others. Sometimes self-esteem is followed by a self-enhancement bias where we tend to overestimate our skills. There are many positives and benefits of having high self-esteem as well. Having high self-esteem acts as a contributing factor to happiness, optimism, and motivation. Having said that high levels of self-esteem are not stable and are contingent on certain outcomes. Self-compassion is stable and it is there for ourselves when our self-esteem fails us. Self-compassion is not dictated by our ups and downs. It reminds us of the shared human experience and how we are valued and supported. There is also a correlation in terms of self-compassion and self-esteem. When we look at ourselves with kindness we are creating room for self-acceptance which leads to high self-esteem.
Self-compassion and well being
Being self-compassionate helps our overall well-being as well. When we create a space of consideration and learning it helps us to feel emotionally calm and cared for. When we are talking to ourselves like we would talk to a friend when they would make a mistake we are creating a sense of safety and security for ourselves. Studies have shown that self-compassion is positively associated with our social connectedness, life satisfaction, and overall psychological health. Self-compassion also helps in reducing anxiety as it helps us in self-soothing. Self-compassion also helps in dealing with comparisons. When we understand our shortcomings and reasons for the failure, being compassionate helps us to not go down the spiral path of where our friends/family members/ or colleagues are. We understand the hurdles we face and the things that we can work on. There is accountability but there is no blame. Self-compassion helps in not feeling superior or inferior to anybody. It helps us understand that we have strengths and we can view ourselves more holistically.
There can be a lot of reasons why we engage in self-blame or have a constant critical voice in our heads when we make a mistake. It could be due to conditioning when our caregivers criticized us, or we didn’t have a safe space that allowed us to fail or make mistakes. There is an automatic negative association with failure. However, our reaction to that failure determines whether or not we are ready to put in the effort and try again. Oftentimes we give up, thinking we don’t have the necessary skills or we want to avoid experiencing those negative emotions again. However, if we accept our weakness, and realize this is a shared human experience and everyone goes through with it, we build resilience. When we show compassion to ourselves we are building our positive self-talk, we are being kind to ourselves. This encourages us to recover from our setbacks and we are ready to try again.
Self-compassion can also act as a healthy coping mechanism. When we view our mistakes and failures with empathy and kindness we are not ignoring or suppressing our negative emotions. We are using our positive emotions to embrace the negative emotions. This reinterpretation of events helps you to cope as we are less likely to be in denial or defensive about our weaknesses. The safe environment that we create for ourselves helps us to work on our shortcomings and bring about positive changes. Self-compassion is also helpful in proactive coping. This helps in situations where we are anticipating certain stressors, especially those which are out of our control. This is beneficial as we are better prepared to deal with unpleasant emotions when such stressors do arise.
Why we need self-compassion
There are several reasons why one needs to develop self-compassion. A study was conducted to study the effect of words on plant growth and health. Two plants were kept in the same environment with adequate sunlight and water. One plant was given a positive environment where they used kind and positive words while speaking to the plant while the other plant was given a negative environment where they used harsh words while communicating with the plant. It was observed that after 30 days the plant which was spoken to kindly grew taller, healthier, and larger than the plant in the negative environment. This shows how negative and positive words can affect others. Just like plants, humans beings are also impacted by this (Choube and Sharma, 2021).
In this fast-paced world, there are a lot of shoulds and oughts that are dictated to us that we follow. Self-compassion helps us understand and work through these rigid rules of success and failure. When we are looking at ourselves with kindness we are being open to possibilities. Self-criticism and judgement can not only hinder our progress but it also affects our perception of ourselves. We deserve to be understood, accepted, and given chances to try. When we start looking at by self-compassion we realize we have the freedom to make mistakes and to try again. When we give ourselves this freedom we learn to grow. On the other hand, when we restrict ourselves from failing and feel ashamed we might hinder our own growth. As we feel it is only me who couldn’t succeed or it is only me who doesn’t have the right skills. We overlook the fact that in there are other individuals like us who have experienced failure or have made mistakes. There are others who have had setbacks and tried and attempted and overcome them. Self-compassion gives us a safe space in our minds and allows us to try. Being kind to ourselves allows us to accept our humanness. It helps us rewrite certain unhelpful beliefs that we were taught or learned while growing up. Self-compassion allows us to take space in our own lives by allowing us to be who we are and replenishing our energy levels to try and work towards our goals. I think ‘be kind’ should be a motto. Being kind to others as well as ourselves. We all can extend this hand of kindness to others and ourselves we will not only be able to cope with stress and anxiety but also promote psychological and physical well-being.
Some examples of what self-compassion looks likes:
I accept myself
I am enough
I love and respect myself
I believe in myself
I am allowed to make mistakes
I will grow and learn from this
I can take my own time
It is okay to feel this way
Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2010). Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping. Social and personality psychology compass, 4(2), 107–118. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00246.x
Choube, D., & Sharma, S. (2021). Psychological and Physiological Effect in Plant Growth and Health by using Positive and Negative Words . IJIRT, 8(1).
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(1), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2006.03.004
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00330.x