What is self-compassion? Self-compassion is loving ourselves during times of perceived failure the same as when we experience success. Self-compassion is giving ourselves permission to be human vs. practicing perfectionism. Self-compassion is giving ourselves permission to feel as opposed to judging ourselves for having those feelings. Self-compassion is “essentially the same as compassion you have toward others, but turned inward” (*Germer & Neff, 2019).
In a societal culture that prides itself on hard work and humility, self-compassion can be a challenge. But self-compassion is critical. Why? Research shows that individuals with high self-compassion have great physical and mental strengths: increased motivation (even after failure); healthier self-image; reduced states of depression, anxiety and shame; better physical health; better coping skills; and better accountability for mistakes.* Remarkably, a link has been determined between self-compassion and reduced suicidal ideation and nonsuicidal self-injury.* Self-compassion even appears to help individuals stop or reduce smoking. Those that practice self-compassion report greater ‘life satisfaction, hope, happiness, optimism, gratitude, curiosity, vitality and positive affect.”* Self-compassionate athletes are found to be more resilient and less self-critical.
Are you practicing self-compassion? A few questions:
- Do you talk to yourself the way you would a best friend or close family member?
- Do you practice regular self-care?
- Do you break “dates” with yourself? How long have you held on to that gift certificate to get a massage because you’re too busy? Do you skip the gym because there “just isn’t enough time”?
- Do you put others before yourself?
- When you make a mistake, do you give yourself grace or do you judge yourself?
- Do you give yourself permission to have feelings?
The answers to these questions are probably obvious—if you answered “no” to many or all the questions, you are likely not practicing self-compassion. That’s OK! You can start making changes to be kinder to yourself.
What does your inner dialogue sound like? If you feel like you’ve failed at something or made a mistake, catch your self-talk. Instead of “how could you do that?” or “you’re so stupid!” talk to yourself like you would a best friend. Would you say those things to your best friend? Of course not, so neither should you say those things to yourself. So … what would you say to your friend? That should become your inner self-talk, which might sound like “you’re human, it’s OK” or “you tried your best.” It takes practice, but once you start to catch these statements, it’ll become easier to challenge that negative self-talk.
People often mistake what self-care really means. Self-care is more than a one-time massage or pedicure. Self-care is a regular practice of taking care of your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs. And it’s different for each person. For some, the idea of going to the gym would make them cringe but going on a walk with a friend sounds like bliss. For some, spiritual self-care means church and Bible study; for others, it may be a hike or getting in touch with nature. Self-care is setting boundaries and protecting your aforementioned needs.
We are taught to be humble and giving, which is what connects us to each other, builds empathy and ultimately makes us better humans. But when we prioritize the needs of others, we aren’t practicing good self-care or boundaries. When we have a friend that is sick or grieving, sure—we drop what we’re doing to be supportive. When we constantly put the needs of others before our own, we can get rundown, resentful and lack compassion. There’s a saying: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” In other words, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t effectively take care of others. In fact, if you’re not in a good place physically and mentally, you can actually cause more harm than good to others.
Self-compassion does not mean lack of accountability or responsibility. It is not narcissism; rather, it is about grace-giving and kindness to ourselves. It’s owning our mistakes, but not at the risk of our esteem or overall sense of self. It’s writing a script, whereby we as the author get to write in kindness, compassion, self-love and ultimately—peace.
*Germer, C., Neff, K. (2019). Teaching the mindful self-compassion program: A guide for professionals. The Guilford Press, New York.