The Art of Loving Yourself: Self Compassion
It is the season of love and Valentine’s Day, and there can be a lot of societal pressure to show love to those around us, but how do we show love to ourselves? One important way that we can show love to ourselves is through the practice of self-compassion. According to positive psychology researchers compassion is about showing love, empathy and kindness to those who are experiencing difficulties, self-compassion is about extending that same compassion back toward yourself.
Many of us mistakenly believe that being tough on ourselves, especially when we make mistakes or feel like failures, will help us to succeed in the long-term or do better the next time. Research shows that mentally beating yourself up, may impede your performance. On the other hand, developing a sense of self-compassion can help you in many areas of your life, and there are a great number of social, psychological and physical health benefits that are associated with self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert in self-compassion research, explains that there are three main elements of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-Judgement – Being kind and gentle to ourselves, rather than harshly criticizing ourselves.
- Common Humanity vs. Isolation – Recognizing that suffering, making mistakes, and personal failures are all normal parts of everyone’s life. We are not alone!
- Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification – Observing our negative emotions non-judgmentally, without over-focusing on them or trying to suppress them.
Self-compassion is about recognizing and accepting our flaws and failures and treating ourselves as we would a good friend when times get hard.
Researchers have found that self-compassion has been linked to increased motivation, happiness, resilience to adversity and self-worth, as well as decreased psychological stress. Self-compassion can be especially useful at school too, with research showing that students with higher levels of self-compassion have lower avoidance of classroom participation and report a higher tendency to ask questions, seek help and speak with their instructors outside of the classroom.
Self-Compassion can be learned. The first step in practicing and learning self-compassion is to recognize how you respond to failure and to choose the three elements of self-compassion rather than self-criticism. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education suggests some additional ways to practice self-compassion:
- Write yourself a letter – Imagine that you are writing the letter to your friend and the kind, supportive things you might say to them if they were going through a hard time.
- Write down your self-talk – Note when you are using negative or critical self-talk and write it down. Ask yourself if you would say these things to a friend.
- Develop a self-compassion mantra – Create an easy-to-remember self-compassion phrase or two to tell yourself when you’re having a hard time.
- Meditate – Practice noting your emotions non-judgmentally and begin to loosen the grip of self-critical thoughts and feelings.