“Talk to yourself as you would someone you love”- Brene Brown
Being positive towards yourself may be easier when you succeed. However, individuals may also face various hurdles or setbacks throughout their life. Hence, treating yourself with the same kindness that you would offer another is essential, particularly in the face of challenges.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion may be a less familiar concept when compared to self-confidence or even self-esteem. However, it is equally important as the latter two, and can even influence them to a certain extent. Self-compassion refers to the ability to turn acceptance and love inwards as well as being understanding towards ourselves when we fail, suffer or feel inadequate rather than criticising ourselves. For example, when a friend is going through a difficult time, we treat them with kindness and would be encouraging. However, when we face difficulties, we may not respond in the same manner. When someone performs poorly, is overlooked for a promotion or experiences interpersonal conflict with a colleague, they may berate themselves. This can lead to a poor judgement of one’s own potential and undermine their personal development. Hence, directing a positive response internally when experiencing difficulties is important for one’s wellbeing.
A common myth regarding self-compassion is that it is a weakness, it is equivalent to self-pity or is about lying to yourself. It is also believed to be about judging your abilities, self-worth or comparing yourself others. However, this is not what self-compassion is. On the contrary, self-compassion refers to doing something beneficial for yourself and creating a sense of psychological safety wherein you can push yourself further, take risks or chances, yet be able to accept it if things do not work out the way you hoped or anticipated that they would. Hence, being self-compassionate enables you to be courageous and explorative as you will not criticise yourself even if you are unsuccessful.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
Individuals who practice self-compassion have been found to be more kind and accepting of their own mistakes or failures rather than being judgemental. Self-compassionate individuals are also aware that suffering and failure is a shared human experience and take a balanced approach when experiencing negative emotions such that these emotions are not inflated or supressed. Hence, there are numerous ways in which such self-compassionate behaviours can be of use in one’s personal and professional life. The following is a list of a few benefits of being self-compassionate:
- Motivation- Self-compassionate people have more intrinsic motivation to improve themselves, learn and grow in different aspects of their life which can help reduce laziness, take risks and avoid repeating past mistakes. As a result, they are likely to be more confident and successful in reaching their goals.
- Resilience- Compassionate individuals have been found to have higher standards for themselves than those who lack self-compassion. Consequently, they are more productive and persistent while navigating setbacks. They also have more psychological strength, which helps prepare for the future and face failures more confidently.
- Compassion towards others- Being compassionate towards yourself is associated with being compassionate towards others. This suggests that boosting self-compassion can help you become more compassionate towards others and vice versa. Thus, being kind and non-judgemental towards yourself can influence and improve the way you treat others.
- Emotional intelligence- Self-compassion increases emotional intelligence by improving awareness of your emotions and needs in different contexts, thereby facilitating the way you deal with situations. For example, it can help stay calm and optimistic during stress and enhances decision-making skills.
- Growth mindset- Being self-compassionate can help foster a growth mindset wherein individuals believe that they can improve and thus, are more focused on their personal development and put in the effort to improve while staying optimistic and positive. Additionally, rather than avoid challenges, they are able to accept them and try to find ways to overcome any difficulties they face while trying to reach their goal.
- Leadership- Individuals with higher self-compassion have been found to be better leaders as they act more responsibly and morally while making difficult decisions, are able to build better relationship with their subordinates and respond to failures more optimistically. They have also been found to be able to influence their subordinates’ motivation and satisfaction.
- Authenticity- Being compassionate can also help people be true to themselves by reducing negative thoughts, self-doubts and social worries such as being judged by others. As a result, this may reduce fears and boost optimism, thereby enhancing one’s authenticity which helps people choose careers or jobs that they enjoy and value.
Ways to Enhance Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a skill that seems simple yet can be challenging to practice. However, it is not complicated and can be learned or enhanced with time and patience. By utilising various tools or strategies and regularly dedicating time to train your brain and practice being kind to yourself will facilitate in making it a habitual response during difficulties. Here is a list of things people can do to practice self-compassion:
- Rewire your thoughts- Paying attention to the functioning of your brain and thoughts, and consciously orienting it towards self-compassion on a daily basis could make these habits easier such that it becomes an automatic response in the future.
- Mindfulness- Practicing mindfulness can prevent black and white thinking (where people evaluate things in two extremes), enhance understanding as well as awareness of your emotions, prevents rumination, self-criticism and negative self-judgements which may increase self-compassion and consequently improve clarity as well as facilitate in making better, well thought out decisions.
- Writing- Activities such as journaling or writing notes to yourself can help understand your thinking patterns and identify what requires change. Furthermore, when going through tough situations, writing to yourself wherein you treat yourself as you would a friend can help avoid self-flagellations and view situations from a different perspective.
- Learning- Being able to learn from situations that you face, your emotions and experiences can help foster self-compassion. Acknowledging and accepting emotions you feel, being curious about the source of these emotions can provide more insight into your perspective which helps understand yourself better. As a result, you will be able to respond more effectively and positively the next time you face challenges.
- Permission to be human- It is a human condition to have flaws, make mistakes, be imperfect and experience setbacks. Hence, giving yourself permission to make mistakes can help accept and acknowledge your feelings better. It is also important to understand that many may have felt the same way and if you realise that you are not being compassionate towards yourself, make sure that you do not berate yourself for it. This can facilitate the process of fostering self-compassion.
Ultimately, being self-compassionate is about recognising what it means to be a human. Hence, understanding that emotions and experiences such as stress, pain, fear, happiness and sadness are all part of the journey and allowing yourself to experience these in a safe zone is necessary. It is just learning about yourself better, understanding that you are doing the best you can and offering yourself support to continue to do so even in situations where you think it is not possible. If you struggle to foster self-compassion, remember that is not a skill that develops overnight, it takes time and practice. Therefore, continuing your efforts and endeavours would help achieve the results you desire.