Your best friend just called you after a tough day at the office. She got swamped with new assignments, had to redo work for a big project, and ran late to a couple meetings. So of course, being the good friend that you are, you patiently hear her out and reassure her that everyone has off days and that we all make mistakes. You provide her with the emotional support she needs to get back on her feet and shake it off.
Now, put yourself in your best friend's shoes: you just had a difficult day at work and made some mistakes of your own. But rather than treat yourself with the same patience and kindness you provided to your friend, you put yourself down and are frustrated that you couldn't perform up to your standards.
Why the stark contrast?
Because we often lack self-compassion. Despite our ability to treat our friends and loved ones with tenderness and understanding, we struggle to extend that same sense of compassion unto ourselves because we are our own worst critics.
And that is why self-compassion can be a life-altering practice. When we are able to appreciate that, like anybody else, we are fundamentally flawed, we begin to accept that going through a rough patch or making mistakes is just a part of being human. And that's ok!
- What is Self-Compassion?
- What Self-Compassion is Not
- The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion
- The Bottom Line
What is Self-Compassion?
Compassion is the ability to show empathy, love, and concern toward people who are in a difficult position. Self-compassion is simply the ability to direct these same emotions within, and accept oneself, especially in the face of failure. Of course, this is easier said than done: people who are otherwise very compassionate can face a mental block in showing compassion for themselves, fearing that doing so is an act of self-indulgence, self-pity, or selfishness.
However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Failure, making mistakes, and grappling with difficult situations are completely normal aspects of daily life, and we need to treat ourselves with the same level of compassion that we would others in the face of these obstacles. In fact, self-compassion is critical to achieving and maintaining emotional wellbeing; without it, we are more likely to suffer from anxiety and insecurity.
Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher and the first to define the term academically, states that self-compassion has three key elements:
- Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
Self-compassion calls for us to be warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignore our pain and overly criticize ourselves. Being imperfect, failing, and facing difficulties in life are inevitable; when this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, we are able to experience greater emotional calmness and stability.
- Common humanity vs. isolation
- Being human inherently means that one is mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. A core aspect of self-compassion is recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are parts of the shared human experience. These are experiences that we all go through, not experiences that happen to individuals alone.
- Mindfulness vs. over-identification
Self-compassion requires that we take a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, objective state of mind in which one observes experiences and emotions with openness and clarity. This allows for thoughts and feelings to be seen as they are and ensures that we are not overly concerned with negative experiences. As a result, we are able to not only expect failures and shortcomings, but also view them as opportunities for personal growth.
What Self-Compassion is Not
Self-compassion can often be confused or associated with other concepts. In order to fully understand and embrace self-compassion, it is equally important to understand what self-compassion is not.
- Self-compassion is not self-pity
People who have a difficult time practicing self-compassion may fear that it is partaking in self-pity. However, self-pity ensues when people become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar issues; they ignore the fact that all humans suffer. This directly contradicts the common humanity aspect of self-compassion, which emphasizes the importance of putting one's struggles in perspective and recognizing that struggling and falling short are not isolated experiences.
- Self-compassion is not self-indulgence
Another common misconception about self-compassion is that it is an act of self-indulgence. However, self-compassion and self-indulgence are very different concepts. Self-indulgence involves giving oneself pleasure without consideration for the potential downsides or impacts on wellbeing (for example, binge-watching Netflix and skipping your workout multiple days in a row). Meanwhile, self-compassion allows you to objectively recognize your shortcomings and make adjustments as needed (for example, recognizing that you haven't been exercising as much as you should and responding by creating a regimen for yourself). When you practice self-compassion, you are able to avoid spiraling into shaming yourself when you reflect on a shortcoming, and you are able to grow from it in a positive way.
- Self-compassion is not self-esteem
Self-compassion can be confused or associated with self-esteem, but these concepts also greatly differ. Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. In modern Western culture, self-esteem is often tied to how much we are different from others and how much we stand out from the crowd. As a result, too much emphasis on self-esteem can actually drive us to go to extreme lengths to feel good about ourselves, which can result in distorting or completely ignoring personal shortcomings, and even reacting angrily when confronted with these shortcomings. In contrast, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations; rather, it is based on the fact that all humans deserve to be treated with compassion and understanding. Said differently, with self-compassion, you do not have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. You can treat failures with kindness and grow from these experiences. In fact, in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, and less narcissism and reactive anger.
The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion
The benefits to practicing self-compassion are quite remarkable. Neff's research has demonstrated that those who practice self-compassion exhibit the following characteristics:
- Learning and growth mindset
- Increased intrinsic motivation
- Higher capacity for creativity and curiosity
- Less fear of failure and higher likelihood of taking calculated risks
- Greater confidence in their abilities to reach their goals and/or learn from failure
In order to reap the rewards of self-compassion, it is important to remember that self-compassion is an ongoing commitment. It isn't a practice that's just reserved for when you're going through a rough patch or in the midst of failure: you should make it a point to practice self-compassion on a consistent basis. By doing so, you will be well-equipped to handle failures or difficult situations as they come.
Self-compassion can certainly be difficult to master, as it is likely a different relationship with oneself than we are used to experiencing. But dedicating time and energy to learning how to be compassionate intrinsically can drastically improve our mental wellbeing. And in our next post, we'll explore some of the best practices you can take for mastering the art of self-compassion.
The Bottom Line
Self-compassion is a powerful practice that allows us to healthily and rationally deal with our shortcomings, mistakes, and difficult situations, treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we would anyone else, and grow from our experiences. Once we are able to accept our humanity and understand that failures are a natural part of our journey, we will be in a better position to improve our mental wellbeing and positively impact others.
At Empress Teas, our products, resources and community are all aimed at helping you build the right lifestyle for your mental wellbeing. We look forward to being your guide on the journey to wellness.
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