In this post I wanted to write about self-compassion and self-love. In February we celebrate (or are subjected to) Valentine’s Day, which emphasizes romantic love. But I wanted to take this space to talk about the love we can show ourselves during difficult times.
Self-compassion is easy to understand but difficult to practice. Basically, it’s the idea of taking the compassion you probably naturally feel for others and learning to cultivate that same feeling and direct it toward yourself.
My guess is that you naturally are a caring, warm, and compassionate person. You likely care deeply for your friends, family, pets, children, the elderly, refugees, and other creatures who need help and are suffering. Self-love is about taking the natural care you have for others and learning to direct it to someone just as worthy as receiving it – you.
Some Research on Self-Compassion
Rearch shows that self-compassion is linked with all kinds of benefits, including decreased anxiety and depression, and increasing motivation to improve. For example, one study found that self-compassion buffers against anxiety and increased self-compassion predicted later increases in overall psychological well-being (Neff, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, 2007).
Another study examined students who perceived a recent midterm grade as a failure. Results showed that students with higher self-compassion were more likely to cope in healthy, emotion- focused ways compared to students who coped by using avoidance strategies (Neff, Hsiech, & Dejitterat, 2007).
Because of these findings, an entire program, the Mindful Self-Compassion training program, has been developed. One recent study found that students in clinical and health psychology who completed the eight-week training reported greater self-compassion, mindfulness, and psychological well-being. However, those results were only found for those students who reported being committed to the program and adhering to the practices (Ramon, Gomez-Martinez, Antonio, & Jimenez, 2019)!
Three Things You Need to Know
Kristin Neff, Phd, is one of the leading experts on self-compassion. She has a wonderful website and companion workbook the I highly recommend if you’re interested in learning more. She suggests that self-compassion has three elements that you need to know in order to practice being kinder to yourself.
The first step is noticing that there is some judgment and self-criticism. It’s hard to change something when we don’t fully recognize it. Take some time to pay attention to your thoughts. When you catch yourself beating yourself and being unkind, stop and really pay attention. Common triggers for these kinds of negative thoughts include making a mistake, doing something embarrassing, experiencing a failure, or dealing with a setback. When you experience something like this, ask yourself what thoughts just went through your head and write them down somewhere. Label them as judgmental.
The second step is to normalize your experience and recognize that mistakes, failures, and setbacks happen to everyone. The saying “everyone makes mistakes” has been around forever because it’s true! You are not the first person to have made whatever mistake it is, I promise! You are not the first person to have an award interaction or to experience a long uncomfortable silence. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Messing up is part of the human condition. Normalizing is about realizing that everyone has to deal with suffering. Recognize that you are not alone in your struggle. Try to connect with the broader sense of humanity and recognize that what you are going through is normal.
The third step is to extend kindness to yourself. Talk to yourself like you would a friend going through a similar situation. You would never be so hard on someone else. Imagine what you would say to someone going through something similar. Instead, you would likely remind them that they are doing their best, that mistakes and setbacks happen to everyone, and that things will turn out okay. You would coach them through all the things they do well. However, you would NOT ignore their pain, call them stupid, tell them they deserve to feel badly, or remind them of other mistakes they had made in the past. Do not do this to yourself either.
Have questions about this or want to talk more about starting therapy? Feel free to reach out to me using my contact form.