• Martyna Bobek

What Is Self-Compassion, Exactly?

Many of us believe being critical and tough on ourselves is a good thing. We wrongly believe that being competitive and pushing ourselves past our limits is required for success. Research, however, is proving these assumptions wrong with the concept of self-compassion.


Self-compassion or accepting and nurturing yourself can set the stage for more excellent health, relationships, and general well-being.


Defining Self-Compassion


Self-compassion involves treating yourself how you'd treat a friend that's going through a tough time—whether your friend feels terrible about themselves or going through a rough patch.


Generally, it entails three core components.


  1. Self-kindness, where we're kind and understanding to ourselves rather than critical, harsh, or judgmental.

  2. Recognizing our common humanity, where we feel connected with other people in the experience of life, rather than feeling alone and alienated by our suffering.

  3. Mindfulness, where we embrace our experiences with balanced awareness rather than neglecting our pain.


To become genuinely self-compassionate, we need to achieve and combine all three elements.


For example, picture yourself getting a call from your friend that just got broken up with.


When you ask how they're doing, they reply with “Horrible. Last night, that guy I was dating told me I was putting too much pressure on him, and he thinks we’d be better off as friends.”


Now, you respond with, "Well, to be honest, it's probably because you're getting old, you're not that attractive, and you're pretty dependent and needy. You might as well just give up now.”


You probably wouldn't even talk to someone you cared about in this way. But strangely enough, this is precisely the sort of thing we say to ourselves in these kinds of situations, if not worse. With self-compassion, we discover how to speak to ourselves in the same way we would to a good friend.


What Self-Compassion Isn’t


Here are a few common misconceptions about self-compassion.


Self-Compassion Isn't Self-Pity.


When we feel self-pity, we become immersed in our problems and forget that others have similar struggles. We ignore our interconnectedness with other people and instead feel like we're the only ones in the world who are suffering. Self-pity tends to emphasize our egocentric feelings of separation from others and exaggerate the extent of our suffering.


On the other hand, self-compassion allows us to see relatable experiences without the feelings of isolation and disconnection. Self-pity makes us get carried away and too wrapped up in our emotional drama, where we can't step back from our situation to adopt a balanced, rational perspective.


Self-Compassion Isn’t Self-Indulgence.


Self-compassion is also very different from self-indulgence. Most of us are afraid of being self-compassionate because we're afraid of allowing ourselves to get away with everything.


For example, "I'm stressed out today, so to be kind to myself, I'll binge watch Netflix and eat an entire box of cookies. This, however, is self-indulgence, not self-compassion. Remember, being compassionate means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long run.


Self-Compassion Isn't Self-Esteem.


Although the two may seem similar, they're different in many ways.


Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, value, or how much we like ourselves. Often, we base our self-esteem on how different and unique we are from others. The need for high self-esteem can encourage us to ignore or hide our shortcomings and is often based on our latest success or failure, meaning that self-esteem varies depending on ever-changing situations.


In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion isn't based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion because everyone deserves kindness and understanding, not because they possess a unique set of traits (good-looking, intelligent, funny, etc.). This means that you don't have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.


Benefits Of Practicing Self-Compassion


According to science, self-compassion does appear to offer the same advantages as high self-esteem, with no significant downsides. Self-compassion is associated with


  • Significantly less anxiety and depression

  • Optimism and positive emotions

  • Life satisfaction and motivation

  • Better relationships

  • Improved physical health

  • Resilience needed to cope with stress


A Few Ways to Practice Self-Compassion


The good news for those who aren't naturally self-compassionate is that you can learn techniques to improve your self-compassion and still reap the benefits. Experts have suggested a variety of ways to promote self-compassion. Here are a few:


Comfort your body. Anything you can do to enhance how you physically feel gives you a dose of self-compassion. It can be anything from eating something healthy, taking a break, resting, going on a walk, or practicing self-care.


Write a letter to yourself. Think about a situation that caused you to feel pain, like a breakup, losing a job, or getting into an argument with a loved one. Write a letter to yourself that describes the situation and acknowledge your feelings without blaming anyone involved.


Encourage yourself. If you come across a bad or painful situation, think about what you'd say to a good friend if they were in the same position. Then, direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.


Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental observation of your thoughts, feelings, and actions without suppressing or denying them. When you look in the mirror, accept the bad with the good with a compassionate attitude.


Takeaway


While it takes some time and effort to break self-criticizing habits, you're only being asked to rest at the end of the day, allow life to be what it is, and open your heart up to yourself. It's easier than you may think, and it could change your life.


Resources

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_self_compassion_make_you_selfish

https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-power-of-self-compassion

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