Last article I introduced the concept of self-compassion and raised awareness toward its many scientific benefits, but the question remains: What exactly is self-compassion and what is it not? The attention surrounding self-compassion has grown rapidly throughout the last decade, yet it is still misunderstood by many.
To best help answer those questions I will start by having you take a mindful moment and imagine that you have just made a mistake. Sit in that mistake for a moment, explore the emotional reaction you have towards yourself. Now consider shifting to a compassionate voice, be there for yourself, connect with yourself in that mistake, and forgive yourself.
What did that experience feel like for you? This practice can bring some difficulties due to three very common, yet very wrong, misconceptions about self-compassion. Let us see if you fall into any of these traps:
#1 Self-Compassion is Not Self-Pity!
During the exercise did you feel as though you were throwing yourself a pity party? If so, you can learn one of two things; accept compassion as kindness or adapt your speech to match compassion over affirmations. When we use self-compassionate dialogue, we remind ourselves of the humanistic nature of struggling, connecting our pain with the human experience rather than wrapping ourselves up in our own emotional drama. Self-compassion allows you to expand your perspective outside of yourself (while avoiding catastrophizing personal suffering) and moves you to a space of validation.
#2 Self-Compassion is Not Self-indulgent!
So many people in my office will tell me “If I am not harsh on myself, I will just keep making the same mistake over and over.”, and to that I say maybe, but also remember you are human. It is in our nature to fail. Kirsten Neff remarks articulately “admitting that we’re imperfect human beings doing the best we can and being compassionate to ourselves in the face of our misdeeds, actually allows us to take more responsibility for our actions.” The better news is that this is not just a concept! Research supports that self-compassion leads to taking on more responsibility. Julian Breines and Serena Chen from UC Berkeley provide evidence that facing the music of our mistakes compassionately allows us to learn, avoid blame, take ownership, and build resilience more effectively than shaming ourselves through our mistakes!
#3 Self-compassion is not Self-esteem!
While the two can live simultaneously together they are entirely different! Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember their differences: Self-esteem is outward where self-compassion is inward. Self-esteem is typically based on merit, achievements, and our uniqueness. This is helpful to encourage performance yet turns problematic since esteem is often dependent on our latest success or failure. When someone fails, they are left with a fragmented view of self-esteem and will need something to fall back on. This is where self-compassion sustains your self-view. Since self-compassion is not contingent on external circumstances, it is always accessible. You do not need to compare to others or receive accolades, but rather shift to the internal acknowledgment of your valuable self.
If you held onto your Compassion Timeline from my last article, I invite you to take it out and consider all the external impacts you have had while developing self-compassion (parents, coaches, teachers, peers, siblings, co-workers, mentors). Who encouraged empathetic self-talk and emotional kindness? List them on your self-compassion timeline, highlight moments they were tender and supportive- helping you take compassionate action!
Now that we took care of the WHAT IS of self-compassion – keep an eye out for the HOW TO of self-compassion!