Why is it easier to be compassionate to our friends or a loved when they're going through rough times, than it is to ourselves?
When things go wrong we have a tendency to be harsh, speak badly to ourselves, and get our minds in recurring thought patterns which can take us down the rabbit hole of self doubt, affecting our self worth, and even our health.
Self compassion is a powerful way of improving our wellbeing. It's scientifically linked to being happier, more satisfied, grateful and optimistic; while simultaneously reducing the negative, contributing to less anxiety, depression, stress and over perfectionism.
It's treating yourself with the same kindness, care and tenderness when you're going through a personal struggle, as you would a good friend you cared about.
I'll get you to do a little exercise. Close down your eyes and think about a recent time, when a friend or someone close to you, came to you and they were really struggling. Maybe they had a big failure, or a relationship breakdown, or they were just feeling inadequate; having a rough time and feeling bad about themselves.
What types of things do you say to them?
What is the tone of your voice?
What is your body language like?
Then think about a time you were really struggling, you felt inadequate, or not enough. Perhaps you made a mistake, or you were just having real troubles with something in your life.
Ask the same questions of how you treated yourself in that moment?
How did you go? In general most people find they are warmer, kinder, and more supportive to their friend, than they are to themselves. In fact 85% of people will show self compassion to others, but only 15% will show it towards themselves.
However when we give ourselves our loving, connected, presence; it soothes, calms, alleviates emotional struggle, and helps create a more positive state of mind.
There are 3 elements to Self Compassion
Self Kindness vs Self Judgement
Sense of Common Humanity vs Isolation
Mindfulness vs Over Identified
Let's explore these a little further
SELF KINDNESS - Understanding not punishment
Rather than berating ourselves or judging ourselves harshly, we can find ways to treat ourselves with compassion and understanding.
Instead of ignoring the emotional struggle, or perhaps using other unhealthy ways to numb the feeling, it means asking yourself.
"What do I need?", "How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?"
Speaking kindly to yourself. “I’m hurting because this is so tough and it's a really hard place to be in right now.” Then taking time to offer yourself self-care. What can you do to help yourself through this difficult time?
However we need to be careful this doesn't slip into self indulgence. While there are moments when it's great to eat a tub of ice cream and lie on the couch binge watching your favourite series, we've all done it! You also need to look at your self through the eyes of a mother. Would your Mum let you eat sweets all day?
Probably not right! She would make you eat your vegetables, do your homework and go to bed on time! Self Compassion is also about looking after ourselves, and while there's room for treats and spoiling ourselves every now and then, self compassionate people also respect their bodies and live a healthy lifestyle.
SENSE OF COMMON HUMANITY - Everybody goes through this.
We are all a part of the shared human experience and we all experience, pain, suffering, challenges and imperfections.
Self compassion is honouring and accepting that humanness. Remembering everyone is imperfect and that everyone leads an imperfect life.
We all know this logically, but on the emotional level when we fail, make a mistake, or something isn't going right in our lives we think to ourselves, "This should not be happening", or "Something has gone wrong", or "I wasn't supposed to be having this difficult life challenge", rather than accepting it as a part of being human.
We often forget this when we are in that moment, and feel separate and isolated in what we see as our imperfection, becoming disconnected from others, and even from ourselves.
The irrationality says everyone else is leading a perfect, unproblematic life, and the minute we get on social media this doesn't help either. Every one puts on their best selves and we tend to compare ourselves, possibly isolating ourselves even more.
However if we can understand that we all have troubles and difficulties, even people who we might perceive as having successful, perfect lives, these times can unite us, rather that separate us and make us feel like we are the only ones.
Things will not always go the way we want, sometimes we will face our limitations, or fall short of what we hoped. But when we understand that these are a part of everyone's lives, we are able to have more compassion for ourselves, as well as others.
MINDFULNESS - Neither ignoring nor exaggerating feelings and emotions.
There's a tendency when things are difficult to want to push away our emotions or feelings, however it's necessary to be able to acknowledge them, and be with these in order for them to move through us, to honour and allow those feelings to be there.
If we ignore them, or numb them with other unhealthy behaviours like overeating, alcohol, overwork, or shopping to try and squash them down they will only pop back up at another time down the track.
Unprocessed emotion makes up 80- 90% of our unconscious mind, so things will constantly come up until we deal with them.
However while we don't want to push our feelings or emotions away, we don't want to over indulge them either to the point where we can become swept up in the negativity.
Instead we approach them with mindfulness, and awareness in a non-judgemental way, without trying to supress or deny them.
We can step outside of ourselves and say. "I'm really having a hard time right now".
Being aware that we're having a difficult period, but that we don't get lost in it, or run away with a over dramatic story line.
So next time you're faced with a life challenge, or things aren't going the way you hoped, take time to offer yourself the gift of self compassion. It takes some practice to get used to approaching ourselves in this way, but the rewards of greater mental wellbeing and a more positive and connected outlook bring so many benefits. What can you do, to be kind to you today?
Authors Note: This article is based on the research of Dr. Kristen Neff