The Power of Self-Compassion

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The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. – Joseph Campbell

It is not uncommon for some of us to beat ourselves up for faults, both big and small. This kind of self-criticism comes at a price: it can make us anxious, quite dissatisfied with our lives, and depressed.

Self-criticism can cause us to lose complete faith in ourselves, which can condition us for failure and make us less likely to try to change for the better. If you beat yourself up every time you fail or make a mistake, you will soon try to avoid failure at all costs. It is a natural survival instinct.

The biggest problem with using self-criticism as a motivator is that it is really painful to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. You can end up tearing yourself to shreds. Self-compassionate people want to learn new things and grow for their own sake, not to influence or impress other people.

The Motivational Power of Self-Compassion

Some people lack self-compassion for the very fear that they will be too easy on themselves. So does self-compassion mean been self-indulgent? Low self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., having little confidence in one’s ability to do things) undermine a person’s potential for success. The habit of self-criticism engenders fear of failure. Many self-critics do not even try to achieve their goals because the possibility of failure is totally unacceptable!

Compassion is concerned with the alleviation of suffering. When we feel compassion for ourselves, especially when the suffering comes from our maladaptive and inappropriate habits and behaviors, we want to heal our pain completely. We want to make certain changes and improvements that will help us suffer less. The motivational power of self-criticism comes from a fear-based desire to punish ourselves for our faults. The motivational power of self-compassion comes from the desire to be totally healthy.

Self-compassionate people are more likely to accept responsibility for their past mistakes and acknowledge them with emotional calmness. Engaging in healthier behaviors, such as sticking to one’s weight-loss goals, exercising, quitting smoking, and seeking medical care when needed, grows out of self-compassion. So, please note that self-compassion is not the same as being easy and undemanding on ourselves. It is an absolute way of nurturing and caring for ourselves to reach our full potential.

Nurturing Ourselves: From Inside to Outside

Please note that forgiving and nurturing yourself can set the stage up for better health, relationships, and general wellbeing.

Here are a few ways to nurture yourself and practice self-forgiveness:

Comfort your body. Eat something healthy. Lie down and rest. Take a lovely walk. When you do anything to improve how you feel physically, you take a much-needed dose of self-compassion.

Write a letter to yourself. Describe and elaborate on a situation that has caused you to feel pain (a breakup with a lover, a job loss, a poorly received presentation at work or school, etc.). Write a letter to yourself by way of describing the situation without actually blaming anyone. Allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings completely.

Give yourself encouragement. If something bad or painful happens to you, think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing were to happen to him or her. Direct all the compassionate responses toward yourself.

Practice mindfulness. Take an approach of total non-judgmental observation of your thoughts, feelings, and actions without trying to suppress or deny them.

Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves
that we would give to others. – Christopher Germer

Going Overboard with Kindness to Yourself

Learn to respond to your mistakes with kindness to showcase your self-worth. An attitude of kindness toward yourself will make you stable, strong, and resilient, and you can take it with you everywhere. For many people, self-worth depends on social comparison, which is very fragile. Self-worth that is based on self-kindness and self-compassion is quite stable. When we have self-worth based on self-kindness, we are more kind to others, too. When we have self-worth based on comparison with others, we may do some very nasty and obnoxious things, like bullying people we believe are below us.

Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend or loved one. To begin with, think about what the experience of compassion feels like to you.

The four steps towards practicing self-compassion:

  1. Notice your pain and suffering.
  2. Do reach out with emotion, sympathy, and a complete desire to help.
  3. Offer care and kindness.
  4. Recognize that it is human to suffer, fail, mess up, lose, disappoint, and that is absolutely okay.

 Fear versus Truth (Bursting the Myths of Self-Compassion)

Fear: Self-compassion will make us weak and vulnerable.

Truth: Please note that self-compassion is a reliable source of inner strength that confers courage and enhances resilience when we are faced with difficulties. Self-compassionate people are better able to cope with tough situations such as divorce, trauma, or chronic pain.

Fear: Self-compassion is the same as being self-indulgent.

Truth: It is actually just the opposite. Self-compassion inclines us towards long-term health and wellbeing and not always towards short-term pleasure. Self-compassionate people engage in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating well, drinking less, and going to the doctor more regularly.

Fear: Self-compassion is really a form of making excuses for bad behavior.

Truth: Self-compassion provides the safety needed to admit mistakes rather than blaming someone else for them. Self-compassionate people take greater personal responsibility for their actions and are more likely to apologize if they have offended someone.

The Yin and the Yang of Self-Compassion

The yin of self-compassion contains the attributes of “being with” ourselves in a compassionate way that is comforting, soothing, and validating.

  • Comforting is something that we might do for a dear friend who is struggling, especially by providing support for his or her emotional needs.
  • Soothing is also a way to help a person feel better. It often refers to helping a person feel physically calm in particular.
  • Validating helps a person feel better by understanding clearly what the person is going through and saying it out loud in a kind and tender way.

The yang of self-compassion is about “acting in the world,” that is, by protecting, providing, and motivating ourselves. The first step toward self-compassion is feeling absolutely safe from any harm. Protecting implies saying no to others who are hurting us or towards the harm we inflict on ourselves, often in unconscious ways.

Summary

Self-compassion is a resource that gives us the safety needed to deal with difficult experiences with less resistance.  Please note that when we truly accept and validate the painful reality that we are imperfect human beings prone to making mistakes and struggling, our hearts naturally begin to soften. Then self-compassion forms a state of warm-hearted, connected presence within us that strengthens us during the difficult moments in our lives.

 

About the Author: Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification and an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. Following a professional stint in various corporations, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion for creating and exploring to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less traveled but a journey that I look forward to every day.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India.

Photo by Marivi Pazos on Unsplash

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