5 min read

SELF-COMPASSION IS NOT SELFISH

7th February 2017

Written by Philippa Walsh


The concept of self compassion is not new. It can be traced back over two and half thousand years to Eastern Buddhist philosophy and meditation. 


Being compassionate towards ourselves is no different to being compassionate towards others. 


It is about acknowledging our own suffering and instead of ignoring it by trying to push it away or judging ourselves harshly if we make a mistake or 'fail', we extend ourselves the same type of warmth, understanding and care that we would to others in a similar situation.


Sadly, self-compassion is sometimes seen as self indulgence; many people worry that being kinder to themselves is selfish or unjustifiable. 


This is simply not so. Research has shown that self-compassion is associated with better emotional regulation, increased emotional resilience and a more caring attitude in relationships.

What Exactly is Self-Compassion? 

According to Dr Kristen Neff  (a leading researcher in self-compassion), self-compassion has three main components.


  • The ability to be kind to ourselves: essentially this means being gentle to ourselves rather than self-critical when things are not how we would like them to be.

  • Common humanity: recognising that suffering is a shared human experience and is not something that we should take personally or blame ourselves for.

  • Mindfulness: this means taking a balanced perspective of our negative emotions. It is about acknowledging our feelings and observing them without judgement or reaction. It entails being open-minded and receptive to our emotional suffering without getting caught up in it.

Being self-compassionate should not be seen as a one off goal, but as a journey in personal growth and long-term happiness and well-being. 


How many of us have beat ourselves up for not sticking to a diet or failing to meet our own or other peoples expectations? Self-compassion is about accepting our shortcomings and still being able to love ourselves without conditions.

How Self-Compassionate Are You?

If you are thinking that you might be treating yourself a little harshly, the chances are that you are probably right. But often we don't realise how negatively we judge ourselves. Some helpful questions to ask ourselves are:

  • How do we normally speak to ourselves? We all have that inner dialogue going on...does it tend to be warm and encouraging or harsh and critical?

  • What type of language do we use when we speak to ourselves? Is it kind and forgiving or derogatory and negative?

  • If your inner voice tends to be the latter, how does it make you feel? Does it motivate and inspire you or make you feel a failure?

  • Do you feel connected to others when you are being unkind to yourself...or isolated and depressed?

  • Are you able to take a balanced view of difficult situations or do you get so caught up in the drama of them, that you tend to see challenges as the end of the world?


It is tough being in a world that is so competitive and one that prizes particular sets of ideals. Sadly these are ideals that are not always possible for us to live up to. 


Striving for self-improvement motivates and inspires us, but verbal self-flagellation does not. Judging ourselves harshly only serves to demotivate us and lower our self-esteem. 


If you are someone whose inner voice tells you that you're not good enough, then perhaps it's time to change.

How to be Self-Compassionate

  • Make more time for YOU. We lead busy lives, we have demands made on our time by employers, family, friends; but value yourself by making sure you do at least one thing a day that brings you pleasure.  

  • Acknowledge your achievements and be proud of them. We are quick to recognise the achievements of others, but what about our own? Praise yourself - you deserve it.

  • Practice being self-compassionate: next time your inner critic voice chimes up, counterbalance it with a kinder voice and use words of warmth and encouragement.

  • Learn to forgive yourself and remind yourself that no-one is perfect. If you're angry or disappointed with yourself, you can resolve to learn from it and do better next time, without being harsh to yourself.

  • Look after your physical well-being - get enough sleep and try to minimise stress. Eat healthily and exercise daily if possible.

  • Respect yourself by staying true to your own values and having good personal boundaries in place.

  • Practice self-soothing techniques if you're having a bad day. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, a read of a favourite book or some relaxing music.

  • Always remind yourself of your positive qualities. You may not feel that you have the best physique - but is that the only thing that defines you? You might have lovely healthy hair or make everyone you meet feel special. There is always something if only you're prepared to see it how others might.

  • When things are tough, remind yourself that it won't always be this way. Come up with ways of improving your situation and vow to make small changes to get things where you'd like them to be. Remind yourself of past successes or times when things were better.

  • Use positive affirmations that inspire you rather than demotivate you: these could be "I deserve to be happy", "I am a worthwhile person", etc...

  • Honour your dreams and goals. Create a plan to achieve them (even if right now they seem unattainable). Never dismiss your goals as fantasies or whims if they are important to you. Keep trying -  dreams don't have an expiration date!

  • Find a balance between acceptance and striving. Acknowledging your potential is part of self-compassion; but never being satisfied with where you are or with what you've achieved so far, is being unkind to yourself.

  • Forget trying to be perfect - what is perfection anyway? 

  • Practice being self-compassionate by imagining that your situation is being experienced by a friend: What would you say to them? How would you treat them? How would you reassure them? How would you make them feel cared for and loved? Now, do this for yourself!

  • Have some self-belief and don't listen to others who try to put you down. This negative behaviour speaks more about them and less about you. You don't have to take on the insecurities of others.

And Remember...

"Compassion isn't some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we're trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves" The 14th Dalai Lama.


If you are unable to stop criticizing yourself, and want to find out more about counselling or psychotherapy in Manchester, reach out to me today to see how I can help.


References

Neff, K. D. (2016). Self-compassion. Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing, pp.37-50.