Many of us can be too hard on ourselves. No more so than in the way of our eating habits, lifestyle choices and body weight. Whether it is struggling over the fact that we no longer fit into those pre-pregnancy jeans, or that we now have areas of our bodies that wobble more than they did last year, or that we lack the willpower of Michelle Bridges, there looks to be a persistent attitude when it comes to how we relate to ourselves.
We are our toughest critics. This pattern of thinking generates more harm than good. It can essentially work against us to strengthen not only our negative self-view and worsen confidence but it can actually perpetuate the behaviour we are trying to avoid. Negative thinking about ourselves can lock us in a state of being unable to change; both emotionally and physically. Self-compassion is key to long term positive change.
So What Exactly Is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is a comparatively new term in psychology circles and essentially refers to cutting yourself some slack. As Dr Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, put it in her TedX talk, ‘… Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable.’ There will be situations in our lives that we dislike and even frustrate us. This is the common human experience. But by extending a little grace to ourselves we can learn to continue to move forward without getting stuck in a vicious cycle of shame and self-defeating behaviour.
What Self-Compassion is Not
Self-compassion is a distinct concept and should not to be confused with the following similar but subtly different terms:
Self-pity – when individuals feel self-pity they become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. This can make them introspective, self-absorbed, and exclusionary from others. Self-compassion, on-the-other-hand says that as humans we all have shared common experiences, including suffering, and there is always someone else worse off.
Self-indulgence – being compassionate to oneself does not mean you allow yourself to get away with everything, especially damaging behaviours. A central premise of self-compassion is that you want to be happy and healthy in the long term even if this means feeling a little discomfort in the meantime.
Self-esteem – to some degree self-esteem relies on external cues that you are okay such as others commenting on your looks or behaviour. Therefore self-esteem is based on comparison with others and if you deserve to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion on the other hand says that you deserve compassion because all human beings deserve understanding and compassion. This means that with self-compassion you do not have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.
How to Practise Self-Compassion
To get the idea of what self-compassion would look like in your own life try the following exercise. Take out a piece of paper and write down answers to the following questions.
- Firstly, think about a time when a close friend was feeling really bad about themselves or their behaviour. Consider how you responded or would respond to them in this situation. Write down what you naturally do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
- Now think about a current time when you felt bad about yourself. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
- Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. Are there any factors or influences that come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- Please write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you are suffering. Would you feel more energised to want to move onward, would you feel more positive about your future and your outlook, would you be more self-accepting?
Holistic Medical Doctor