Psychologist Lyn Beasy* tells us about the benefits of self-compassion.
Think of the last time you made a mistake or didn’t meet your own expectations. Were you harsh on yourself? Did you call yourself names? Did you say things to yourself you wouldn’t say to someone else?
Although you can be compassionate towards others, you may notice that you don’t show that same level of kindness to yourself. Dr Kristen Neff, a leading researcher into self-compassion, says that, ‘Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, concern and support you would show a good friend.’
Self-compassion differs from self-esteem or selfishness. Self-esteem gets activated when we have done something good or succeeded, which makes us proud of our accomplishment. However, when we are failing or struggling, our self-esteem can get knocked and become fragile, because we feel that we are not meeting this high ideal. Instead, it is better to reach a place of self-acceptance. This is recognising we are not perfect, and self-compassion is telling ourselves that this is okay.
Suffering is part of the wider human condition. There are times when we all experience suffering in some form, such as pain, loss, heartache or financial hardship. In these times, we usually become hard on ourselves, or think there is something wrong or defective in us that has caused this to happen.
Often, we believe the way we should better ourselves is to beat ourselves up about our defectiveness. In spite of the fact that this rarely works, we keep doing it! Being compassionate towards ourselves is accepting yourself, while recognising our weaknesses, past mistakes and failures.
Research shows that people who are compassionate towards themselves are kinder, more loving, supportive and giving in their relationships with others. It also discovered that self-compassionate people can have high standards about what they want to achieve, but don’t get as distressed if they don’t meet their goals, coping with the outcome more positively.
While it sounds self-indulgent to be compassionate towards oneself, it actually enhances resilience and emotional recovery for life’s setbacks. However, to do this, you have to be prepared to look at your painful or difficult emotions and experiences without becoming harsh or judgmental.
Talk to yourself as if you were talking to a trusted friend. The next time you catch yourself being critical in a moment of suffering, take a few moments to notice that suffering without judging or struggling with it. Replace your harsh judgments with kinder words. Tell yourself it’s a normal part of being human to feel like this. Even a physical act, such as placing a warm hand over your heart or where you feel the emotional pain, can activate a soothing response. You can also try keeping a daily diary of your events and look at them through a lens of self-compassion.
These simple habits can make self-compassion part of your daily life, helping you build resilience and wellbeing.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Caringbah Wellbeing Clinic.