Self-Compassion is often something that’s hard for many of us. Yet practicing self-compassion can significantly increase our happiness and make us more successful. Here’s why you should treat yourself with self-compassion and tips on how to learn treat yourself more self-compassionately.
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I came down this morning, took one look at my crumb-covered kitchen counter, and said out loud, “Oh, God, I am such a messy person.” Do you see what I did there? The kitchen counter was undeniably messy, but I took that one fact and used it to insult my entire personality. In fact, I said – out loud – something I would never, ever say, or even think, about another person.
This time, unlike most other times, I actually heard myself recognized what I was doing. I also chose a different response than the one I usually fall back on when I realize I’m treating myself too harshly. (Ironically, my typical reaction is to say to myself, very sternly, “Why are you always beating yourself up? Stop doing that!”)
Instead, I took a moment, cleaned off the counter, and then sat down at my new clean work environment to think about how I’d like to start treating myself better. I’m just a little tired of living with a nagging, shrew who criticizes my every move.
I found this article in the New York Times to be very helpful in understanding just what my issue is. I lack self-compassion. And why I have it, which is I worry without harsh self-talk, I’ll fall into what I perceive to be my naturally lazy and self-indulgent ways.
That’s not true, of course. Most people do much better work for a supportive boss than a harsh taskmaster. I know from my own life that exercising is a breeze when I’m feeling happy and confident and a joyless slog when I’m working out because I feel like a “fat, lazy pig.”
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is not the same as self-esteem, by the way. Self-esteem is based on your own judgment of yourself and, as such, can be too tied to accomplishments. If you feel like you’re on the right track, your self-esteem goes up, and if you feel like you’re not accomplishing what you should be, your self-esteem goes down. That can keep you on a perpetual high/low roller-coaster.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, is being a friend to yourself no matter what. It’s the loving voice that says, “I know you don’t feel like exercising right now, but you’ll feel so much better if you do even a little bit.” It’s the soothing words to let you know that trying something that didn’t work out isn’t really a failure, but merely another step closer to your ultimate goal. Self-compassion reminds you that everyone struggles; that struggle is just part of being a human.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
People who regularly show themselves self-compassion are happier, more optimistic, and more grateful than people who are hard on themselves. Self-Compassion also increases our motivation for self-improvement, which at first seems a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But I know I’m least likely to want to try something new when the voice in my brain is reminding me of all the ways I’ve failed in the past.
I’ll add another benefit of self-compassion that appeals to me as a parent: it models for our kids how we’d like them to treat themselves when they struggle. If you have a child in college or new to the workforce, they will inevitably have a few struggles. If we can model for them the skill of self-compassion, they will be able to bounce back so much faster.
Myths About Self-Compassion
So why weren’t we all taught to be loving and kind to ourselves as kids? Why is the first voice in my head the harsh and nagging one? It wasn’t because my mom was cruel and unloving; far from it. It was because she, like so many of us growing up, believed some of the myths about being too kind to ourselves:
Self-Compassion is Just Feeling Sorry for Yourself
Nope! In fact, if we acknowledge our bad feelings and failures, we can move past them more quickly.
Self-Compassion is Narcissistic
On the contrary, studies have found that those with high self-esteem tend to be more narcissistic.
Self-Compassion is Selfish
It’s actually very much like the classic adage, “Put your oxygen mask on first.” When we show compassion to ourselves, we are more compassionate to others as well.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
I took this quiz to determine how self-compassionate I am, and I’m just going to say very gently that I scored a little low. I found this quiz and many excellent resources, such as the source material for the tips I’m offering below at the helpful site Self-Compassion.Org.
If, like me, you need to practice self-compassion, here are some tips.
Learn to listen to yourself. When you hear yourself talking harshly to yourself, learn to reframe it.
A Great Exercise for Practicing Self-Kindness
I heard this tip on, of all places the podcast My Favorite Murder and I love it. I’ve used it many times.
If you are having a hard time talking to yourself in a loving way, then think of a person who you know who loves you very much. Imagine that they are talking to you. How would they say what you just said to yourself? (Warning – you may cry the first few times you do this. That’s ok. That’s because it’s working.)
Recognize That We All Share a Common Humanity
I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Mother Theresa made tons of mistakes. I know! I felt weird typing that. But it’s true. It’s so easy to think that we, alone, are uniquely imperfect compared to everyone else, but it’s not true. As humans, we share a collective experience, and imperfection is part of that experience.
Regard Your Situation with Mindfulness
We notice our feelings nonjudgmentally and do not suppress them, but we also do not exaggerate them. If you feel you’ve failed in some way, it’s all too easy to jump straight into either self-recrimination or trying to fix the problem. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge the fact that failure is a painful feeling and console yourself as you would console a friend.
If your friend is mourning the loss of a job, for example, you would acknowledge the sadness she’s feeling, “I know you’re feeling unhappy right now.” But you wouldn’t let her over personalize her job loss. “No, your whole life is not one big failure.” That’s how we should treat ourselves as well.
We can’t overcome a lifetime of conditioning in one week or even one year. Still, if we keep working on being more self-compassionate, we can significantly improve our happiness. This is the kind of self-improvement project I can really be excited about.
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