Cultivating More Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a skill that can be developed and strengthened at any age. It is not an inherent quality that we either have or don’t have.
Self-compassion or self-love may be a foreign concept for some people. This is especially true for those who were raised in abusive or unloving homes, where compassion may have been non-existent.
Self-compassion refers to a way of relating to the self—with kindness. It is not to be confused with arrogance or conceit, which usually indicates a lack of self-love.
Self-compassion is kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding, rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.
Having self-compassion means being able to recognise the difference between making a bad decision and being a bad person. When you have self-compassion, you understand that your worth is unconditional.
Why do we need Self Compassion?
People who have self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness and overall life satisfaction. Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety, depression, shame and fear of failure.
If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others. When we have self-compassion, we are less likely to depend on others to validate our self-worth.
People who lack self-compassion often exhibit a pattern of unhealthy relationships. Remember how you treat yourself reflects how you let others treat you. If you're unkind to yourself, you create a standard for how much abuse you accept from others and as a result end up attracting abusive and disrespectful relationships.
How do we develop Self Compassion?
The first step towards developing self-compassion is to understand exactly what it is and how it may feel. Let’s take a look at the three core components of self-compassion as identified by Kristin Neff, a leading researcher who has been studying self-compassion for over a decade now.
The Three Core Components of Self-Compassion
1. Being kind to yourself, not critical
The first part of self-compassion involves being kind to rather than critical of yourself. When you are struggling in some way - when you fail or feel inadequate for example - as we all do at times or in certain experiences. Self-compassion is about turning towards your suffering with the same care and kindness you would offer someone dear to you. Most people agree that they would never dream of speaking to the people they care about in the same harsh, critical way they often speak to themselves.
Being kind to yourself requires accepting that none of us, as human beings, is perfect. Failing and experiencing challenges and painful emotions is an inevitable part of life. When we are able to accept this reality, rather than rail against it, we are much more likely to develop the capacity to be kind to ourselves, which over time and with practise leads to greater emotional equanimity and contentment. When we resist this aspect of our humanness, we only perpetuate our suffering.
2. Recognising that you are not alone in your suffering, all humans suffer
The second component of practising self-compassion is connecting to the reality that all humans suffer. A big part of being human is being imperfect, vulnerable, making mistakes, having regrets and experiencing painful emotions. Whether we like it or not, these are all an inevitable part of being human.
When we are able to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our suffering, it is easier to be more understanding and accepting of our struggles. Focusing on what we all share in common, rather than on our differences (e.g. that all humans experience sadness, loneliness, frustration and rejection at times; that all humans make mistakes; that all humans want to feel valued, respected, loved and understood, which links back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) helps us to have compassion for ourselves as well as others.
3. Taking a balanced approach to your painful emotions, neither repressing or exaggerating them
The third component of self-compassion involves being mindful of painful emotions - that is, recognising and turning towards them without firstly downplaying or repressing them and secondly over-identifying or exaggerating them. When we are able to turn towards our pain with mindful awareness - with openness and curiosity - we become better at being with, rather than pushing away, what is showing up. Being mindful of our suffering also means that we are not over-identifying or exaggerating our emotions. Instead we stay grounded in reality.
So, how do we go about developing and strengthening self-compassion? Here are a few ideas:
- Awareness, reflection and consciously breaking the habit of how you speak with yourself
- Consider how you would speak to a friend
- Professional Support
Meet the author
Dr. Lalitaa Suglani, Psychologist, Speaker, Author
Dr. Lalitaa Suglani is an award-winning Psychologist, renowned leadership coach, international speaker, and co-Author of two bestselling books on how to live a happy and successful life.
She believes that the key to achieving lasting success and happiness in all areas of our lives lies within our own minds and takes into consideration cultural and ethinic minority differences in her work. She is committed to supporting individuals to achieve emotional and psychological wellbeing and has worked with adults, children and families as well as within organisations, such as schools, charities and private organisations.
Through supporting personal growth and self-awareness, Dr. Lalitaa has witnessed first-hand how individuals learn to harness their thought patterns, gain control of the voice in their heads, cultivate a positive mindset, and create the life and career of their dreams.
Her mission is to help transform lives by helping people understand and accept emotions, their attachments, and create healthy relationships. Having spoken at both business and mental health conferences, her expertise has led to key insights across organisations in the public and private sectors alike.