Self-compassion is a key component to developing good mental health. It’s not about being over-indulgent or too easy on ourselves; there are key steps we can take to look after ourselves more.
It’s easy to show compassion to our loved ones, but it can be a real challenge to show ourselves the same understanding. Our inner critics and negative self-talk can be hard to ignore.
But dwelling on mistakes, and focusing on faults, makes it hard to develop resilience and good mental wellbeing. Self-compassion, on the other hand, helps to build these things. But what is self-compassion?
'Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you're good enough, self-compassion asks what's good for you, what do you need?'
associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology
This involves being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or dwelling on them so that you can keep engaging in life.
We all make mistakes sometimes. It helps to remember that nobody is perfect.
It's important to give yourself the same warmth and kindness you'd offer a friend or loved one in a similar situation.
“Left me with a newfound perspective of why I am self-critical and hopefully will be able to be more self compassionate in the future.”
comment from course attendee
It’s common to feel stressed and be hard on ourselves, especially in a culture that's so focused on performance and achieving targets.
Research shows that people who have higher levels of self-compassion are often more resilient than those who aren't as compassionate.
They have less of a physical response to stressful situations and spend less time dwelling on these situations after they've happened.
This is partly because self-compassion involves actively recognising your strengths and achievements, which boosts self-confidence and our belief in our ability to cope with difficult situations.
A self-critical, or unkind stance, towards yourself when you're going through testing times, activates your body's natural stress response, sometimes called the "fight or flight" response.
A recent study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford* found that exercising self-compassion helps calm your heart rate and shut down this threat response. Study participants demonstrated a state of relaxation and security. They also reported feeling a stronger connection to other people.
If you exercise self-compassion, you're also more likely to:
Self-compassion also encourages personal and professional development, which further improves our confidence and self-esteem. This helps us remember our strengths and skill set objectively without fear of criticism and judgement. We're then able to identify areas for improvement and make changes for the better.
“My life now is so much better. Having counselling and being able to understand everything has impacted on so many areas of my life; my relationship, friendships and family, work, my social life, but perhaps most importantly, how I view myself and respect myself. I feel more confident as a result of counselling and everything has started to slot into place. My work productivity has improved so much.”
Some people may feel self-compassion is self-indulgent, or self-pitying, and therefore be reluctant to practise it.
But developing the ability to face and manage our difficulties, without isolating ourselves from others and becoming absorbed in our own pain, is the essence of courageous living.
Being able to attend to your own difficulties and challenges enables you to have the emotional capacity to engage with others - and life in general - in a more helpful way.
Here are a few ways you can show yourself more kindness and understanding:
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