Think of the last time you worked on a project that did not go as planned, or where you got a lot of negative feedback. What did you tell yourself at that point?
- Did you tell yourself that it is okay and that what happened doesn’t define you?
- Did you comfort yourself by pointing out your own strengths?
- Did you tell yourself that your feelings are valid and you deserve to be happy?
- Did you do something to make yourself feel better?
If you answered mostly ‘no’ to the above questions, you’re not the only one. Self-criticism is often our first response when we feel distressed or disappointed.
Now let’s look at the same situation from a slightly different angle.
Imagine your friend/colleague had a bad day at work because they missed a deadline or were criticised by their supervisor, and they feel upset because of that. If you genuinely care about the person, you would probably help them or console them, instead of ignoring them or simply telling them ‘to deal with it’. In other words, your response is likely to be very different when the same thing happens to someone else.
It seems surprising, but when we face distress, we are much less compassionate towards ourselves. Think about it. How often you had difficulty in a relationship or failed at something and attributed the problem to your being inadequate or ‘not good enough’?
Self compassion helps one to take a different route to cope with stressful situations with self-kindness, the knowledge that everyone makes mistakes and experiences pain, and with mindfulness.
Barriers to self compassion
Compassion as a virtue, may emerge from complex interactions between
- our genetics,
- our experiences,
- the social contexts that determine our identities and roles.
When we face a difficult situation, our previous experiences, our own perception of the matter at hand, and how we have seen others dealing with such circumstances are all going to determine the level of compassion we feel for ourselves.
Why is self-compassion important?
Most psychological distress involves self-blame and criticism. However, practicing self-compassion is shown to help reduce feelings of rumination, anxiety, and depression. It also allows us to connect more deeply with ourselves and relate in a new way to others as we feel a deeper resonance with their experiences. By offering ourselves compassion in painful or difficult situations, we can experience long-term benefits like increased optimism, self-worth, motivation, improved resilience, overall happiness and greater general satisfaction with life.
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How to practice self-compassion?
The best thing about self-compassion is that we do not require any external aid to practice it. All the resources you need are within yourself. Here are some easy steps:
1. Accept and acknowledge the challenge:
The first step to self-compassion is to accept that things are difficult. When we undergo disappointment, loss, worry, hardship or heartbreak, we tend to focus on how the situation should be different. But ignoring reality only intensifies the pain. Instead, acknowledge that it is okay to fail or be imperfect and that difficulties are part of our lives.
2. Be mindful:
After you lower your resistance, accept the problem with mindfulness and be aware of the realities of the present moment, your feelings, your sensations. Instead of telling yourself to ‘simply bear it’ or being critical and judgemental, ask yourself: “ What can I do to comfort myself or make myself feel better?”
3. Try some of these other ways to achieve self-compassion:
- Deep breathing exercises
Remember, being kind to yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t work on your weaknesses. It merely means that you see your own losses or limitations through the same kindly prism that you see those of your loved ones. And you will be surprised at how this simple shift in perspective can transform your mental health.