We often speak of self-esteem and self- criticism but self-compassion is a topic which often gets neglected. Saying it even sounds strange but if you think about it, we are compassionate towards others, then why not towards ourselves? When someone we care about is sad, has problems and is having a hard time don’t we comfort him? Reassure him that things will be ok? Are we not being understanding, empathy, caring and support towards others who need it? Then why don’t we do it when it comes to ourselves? Why in times of troubles, when we feel vulnerable, weak, in need of support and sympathy, we tend to be extremely self-critical? We tend to criticise our feelings and tell ourselves that we are incompetent, a failure, insecure, unattractive, stupid, worthless…. will we use that same tone and adjectives towards others? Surely not! A simplistic way of describing self-compassion could be as being as good or even better friend to yourself as you are for others.
Self-compassion involves reassuring ourselves that it is ok to fail because we are human and fallible. It enables us to see that imperfection and vulnerability are a part of being a human being. Self-kindness in a part of self-compassion (Gilbert, 2009). It implies that we don’t harshly judge our flaws and inadequacies but show understanding towards the self. Recognize that all people fail, experience painful emotions, have inadequacies and make mistakes. Self-compassion does not imply that we always self-evaluate ourselves positively, rather it is based about being non-judgmental and realistic. Recognizing, admitting and accepting that our weakness and strengths co-exist and form who we are as individuals. It is about accepting that we are imperfect just as others also are. It implies accepting that we don’t need to be better than others in order to feel good about ourselves. We just need to be genuine and accept ourselves as who we are. The ability to truly see the self enables us to make the necessary changes to become healthier and happier individuals. Being able to feel good about ourselves just because we are worthy human beings, who deserve love and respect and not due to circumstances, leads to higher emotional stability and resilience (Neff, 2011).
In addition, because self-compassionate people are not judgemental towards themselves, failure to reach their goals does not devastate their perception of their self- worth, sense of security and self-acceptance. Self-compassionate people acknowledge that in reality we are imperfect human being who experience suffering and failure. Difficulties and painful experiences are an inevitable part of life and therefore and we are all worthy of compassion. The focus is more on the greater picture and on the comprehension of the fact that we don’t have control over all parts of our lives ( i.e genetic factors, other people, family history, culture, environmental factors etc). Because we do not live in vacuum and we are also influenced by external factors then one cannot assume that all that happens is completely due to ones personality or behaviour. This realization can help increase the ability of becoming more understanding towards the self.
Self-compassion is about recognizing the disappointment, the painful feelings and the difficulties that one faces at that point of time and in a non- judgmental manner ( Neff, 2003). Being self-compassionate also entails taking the time to observe and acknowledge painful emotions, which implies experiencing the emotions as they are without suppressing or denying their existence. If your friend’s project, for example, was not successful, you would not call him a loser or stupid , right? You might say to your friend i.e “I know that you are sad and disappointed that your project was not a success. You put allot of effort into it. I will help you anyway that I can. Maybe we can try to solve it in another way or ask for advice from another colleague… ” In the same compassionate manner you can talk to yourself. Self- compassion can also increase motivation because if you are not focusing on beating yourself up or impressing others then you can focus more on how you can improve the situation, learn and grow as a person.
According to Neff (2011) when we do not accept reality as it is and we need it to be perfect and always work just the way we want it, then we set ourselves up to more suffering, stress, frustration and self-criticism. Accepting that you don’t always get what you want when and how you want it and that pain is an unavoidable part of life experience, will increase the levels of sympathy and kindness that we feel towards ourselves and others. It will also raise the serenity in our lives. Self-compassion has many benefits. High self-compassion has been linked “to a greater life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, social connectedness, learning goals, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity, happiness, optimism, and positive effect, as well as less self-criticism, depression, anxiety, fear of failure, thought suppression, perfectionism, performance goals, and disordered eating behaviours” (Neff, 2009).
Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. London: Constable
Neff, K. D. (2011) Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 1, 1–12.
Neff, K. D. (2009). Self-Compassion. In M. R. Leary & R. H. Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior (pp. 561–573). New York: Guilford Press.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85–102.