All of us face struggles, disappointments, and losses. We all experience sadness, regrets, and failures. After all, it is these experiences that make us human. Hopefully, we can use these experiences to help us grow and adapt. Unfortunately, many individuals allow these experiences to bring them down. They begin to punish themselves; viewing themselves in a negative light and are unable to feel empathy for themselves, forgive themselves, and accept and love themselves. In a nutshell, they do not have compassion for themselves.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion can be defined as an acceptance of ourselves; full and unconditional acceptance of ourselves as an individual. Research demonstrates that people with higher levels of self-compassion benefit both psychologically and physically. As well, individuals who go through successful therapy usually leave with a better sense of self-compassion. As a psychologist, I always look for those moments in therapy where clients demonstrate low levels of self-compassion, bringing to their attention the many different shapes and forms it takes.
Times when we are not compassionate with ourselves
I often come across clients who are self-critical, are holding onto perfectionistic and unattainable ideals, or blame themselves for common mistakes or for things that were perhaps out of their control. Others are unable to see the strengths they possess or to embrace the positive feelings they receive.
Rather they get “stuck” in a place where they focus on their inadequacies and failures and feel much emotional pain. Some put themselves down for having pain or desperately try to distract and/or avoid that pain. It is in these moments we lack self-compassion.
Do you hold yourself to standards that you would not hold others to? Are you harder on yourself than you would be on a friend or a loved one? Can you accept positive feelings from others? Can you accept your “weaknesses” and still love yourself?
Some individuals work themselves into the ground, not taking time off, neglecting their loved ones, favourite activities, and most of all, themselves. Burn out. It is commonplace. More and more of us feeling stress both professionally and personally. There are responsibilities you cannot delegate, tasks that need to be completed, and deadlines that must be met. I get it. I feel those pressures too. But, when was the last time you attended to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions without judging?
There is not enough space in this article to outline specific ways to practice self-compassion. Rather than doing that here, I have decided to start with providing a general guide of what self-compassion is and what self-compassion is not.
What self-compassion is NOT:
- Expecting 100% perfection
- Not caring for yourself, self-neglect
- Self-attack, self-harm, chronic self-blame, insensitivity toward yourself
- Feeling guilty for indulging yourself, feeling selfish for caring for yourself
- Thinking that others know better
- Allowing mistreatment of yourself
- Narcissism, arrogance
What Self-compassion IS:
- Wholehearted, unconditional positive regard and acceptance of all parts of the self
- Being able to acknowledge our faults
- Accepting that we are all imperfect
- Accepting and understanding of our feelings
- Autonomy: reducing external validation
- Awareness of bodily signals and the capacity to respond
- Feeling entitled to one’s wants and needs
- The capacity to feel these feelings for ourselves:
- healthy entitlement
Self-compassion is a disposition towards yourself and others. It involves us paying attention to our own needs and being mindful of our strengths and preferences, limitations, and comfort zones. It is an acceptance of all parts of your experience and self. Practicing self-compassion need not be stressful. Small steps are often powerful. It would be hypocritical to not be compassionate towards yourself in the pursuit of self-compassion! At the very least, I hope this article helps bring self-compassion into your awareness as an important and fundamental part of your well-being. I will end this article with a quote from Christopher Germer, author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions:
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”