What is Self Compassion?
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of self compassion? Do you think of self pity, self indulgence or self esteem? Because it isn’t any of these things.
The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” and is a feeling we experience when faced with another’s pain or suffering. We feel warmth and caring and are compelled to relieve that suffering. It means being non judgemental, understanding and kind to others when they make a mistake or they fail. When we feel compassion we are acknowledging that imperfection, failure and suffering is part of being human. We are not perfect and it’s actually our imperfections that make us so wonderfully unique.
So, having compassion for yourself is the same as having compassion for others but for many reasons we can find it easier to be self critical rather than warm, supportive and nurturing to ourselves.
Did you know that we talk to ourselves more than we talk to anyone else? So, the internal dialogue we have is really significant in terms of our well being. How do you talk to yourself when you’re struggling or when you’ve made a mistake? Do you speak to yourself kindly the way you might speak to others when they’re in need of support? If you’re unkind to yourself, constantly putting yourself down and never giving yourself a break, how do you feel? I’m wondering if you were to write down the words you commonly say to yourself could you imagine saying them to a friend or to someone you love? It can be quite shocking to realise how harsh and unkind we are to ourselves and how often it happens without us really even being aware.
I like to compare this kind of self criticism to having an abusive or critical partner. Someone who is constantly with us, putting us down and telling us off, undermining our self esteem and self confidence. Who would want to live with someone like that?
Awareness of how we speak to ourselves is the first step towards making a change. Begin noticing when you say something unkind and then counter it with a more self nurturing response. Beware you don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up though!
Here is an example;
You’ve made a mistake and you say something like, “I can’t believe I just did that! I’m so stupid!!!” What would it be like to counter that with a more self compassionate response? Something like, “We all make mistakes, I’m only human.” You could also stop and look at what you’ve been doing lately too. Are you really tired, overworked or stressed? If you’re not thinking very clearly and trying to do too much, is this the reason you’ve made a mistake? Or, is it just a simple mistake, like we all make? Perhaps you expect yourself to be perfect and never make mistakes. That sounds like a huge expectation to live up too. Exhausting even.
Some cynics might dismiss self compassion as being too touchy feely or irrational but there is a biological basis to compassion and it has a deep evolutionary purpose. Research has shown that when we feel compassion our heart rate slows, we release a bonding hormone called oxytocin and the part of our brain that is connected with empathy, care giving and feelings of pleasure light up, often leading to a desire to approach and care for other people.
So the next time you’re struggling or you’ve made a mistake, show yourself the compassion you might show someone else. Notice the difference this might have on how you’re feeling. You don’t always have to be strong and perfect and just cope with what life throws at you. It's okay to be human and imperfect, that's what makes you you; Uniquely You.
Building healthier relationships with others begins with building a healthier relationship with yourself. Find out how counselling can make a positive difference in your life.
Get in Touch