Self-Compassion: Befriend Yourself to Better Mental Health
You don’t look like a masochist. But then again, I can’t see inside your mind. In there, maybe you're housing your own worst enemy.
We’re prone to beat ourselves when we don’t meet our high expectations. When we’re anything less than the perfect image we want to portray on social media we can belittle our accomplishments. But we are only human. And humans fail more frequently than we care to admit. We’d do good to remind ourselves of that. Instead of lashing ourselves when we display our shortcomings, perhaps, we should treat ourselves like a dear friend or a naive child. With care and with kindness.
The psychologist Erich Fromm highlighted the importance of self-compassion when he wrote “an attitude of love toward themselves will be found in all those who are capable of loving others. Love, in principle, is indivisible as far as the connection between “objects” and one’s own self is concerned”. To paraphrase, a person unable to love them self is unable to love another.
Self-compassion is treating oneself with kindness and care. It’s a mindfulness practice we can adopt to radically accept our own thoughts, feelings and sensations. Through saying: “I accept myself as I am”, we exhibit self-compassion.
Dr Kristin Neff, associate professor and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself adds… “Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings… With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”
It may surprise you to learn that self-compassion has heaps of positive proven positive benefits. Studies show people with high levels of self-compassion generally have greater life satisfaction. They are more emotionally intelligent, curious and optimistic.
Self-compassion also brings about feelings of interconnectedness with others. An important set of feelings. It takes a wise person to accept their own humanity, to recognise that they, like all other humans, are flawed. Our imperfections should be worn proudly. Realisations like these make us more forgiving of ourselves and of others.
And there are even additional physical benefits. A study by the University of Exeter found self-compassion exercises calms the heart rate, switching off the body’s threat response – a response potentially damaging to the body’s own immune system.
Despite all the benefits, for many of us, being kind to ourselves doesn’t come naturally.
Strategies to develop self-compassion
Modify your self-talk
So often the voice in our head is overly critical. The space behind our eyes becomes the devil’s playground – quick to judge and deprecate.
When these critical voices arise, notice them. How would you speak to a friend if they were in the same situation? Notice your tone of voice. What words do you use? How is formal is the language? What expectations do you place on your friend? Now compare those answers with how you were speaking to yourself originally. See the difference?
Stop several times a day to ask: “What am I experiencing in this moment, right now?” (Thyself is great for this). If on those occasions you hear a voice that doesn’t sound particularly friendly, catch yourself and remember how you speak to friends.
We’re journal-advocates at Thyself. We’ve all been given a super power: to get our thoughts out of our heads. It’s incredibly liberating. From the page, it’s easy to analyse thoughts in a forward moving manner instead of ruminating in circles. Written critical thoughts can be edited into compassionate words of encouragement.
Here are some self-compassionate journal prompts.
- “Looking back now, I notice my thoughts and feeling were… everyone feels like this from time to time“
- “The situation was a complicated one…”
- “I made a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, next time instead I will…”
Loving kindness meditation
Buddhists use a meditation technique, known as metta, to foster feelings of loving kindness. The general practice looks like this. Visualise a person or situation you feel fondly toward. Amplify those feelings and recognise the bodily-sensation signature (What does loving kindness feel like?). Apply those feelings of kindness to another person or situation.
Your personal mental health homepage
Thyself is your personal mental health homepage. Using our browser extension give yourself mindful moments throughout your day to practice self-compassion and develop a powerful nurturing habit to benefit your mental health. Get Thyself for free today.
 Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving