Many of us have high expectations for ourselves; sometimes we achieve them and other times we fall short. Sometimes we also make the wrong decisions and fear letting others down including our parents, friends, or a significant other. We aim for perfection: being a perfect parent, daughter, son, wife, husband, employee etc. We tend to forget that we are only human; we hold unrealistic expectations of being perfect. When we feel discouraged, rejected, or ashamed, we often become self-critical, which increases the emotional pain and decreases our motivation and interest in achieving our goals. However, there is a healthier way of managing difficult situations, which is by practicing self-compassion.
Well, what is self-compassion? “Self-compassion is an emotionally positive self-attitude that should protect against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation, and rumination” (Neff, 2003). “Self-Compassion helps in treating ourselves with the same kindness, gentleness, and acceptance we likely already extend to others” (Neff, 2018). Self-compassion entails perceiving one’s experiences as part of the human experience rather than seeing them as failures (Neff, 2018). Being mindful of the painful moment and being kind and gentle in response to that pain is self-compassion (Neff, 2003). It requires accepting ourselves as a whole, including our strengths and our weaknesses without being self-critical (Neff, 2003).
Research shows many benefits of practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is effective in reducing depressed mood, regulating intense emotions, and increasing motivation and happiness overall (Diedrich, Grant, Hofmann, Hiller, & Hiller, 2014).
Now you might be wondering how to practice self-compassion. It is a skill you can develop with continuous practice. Don’t lose hope if it does not work from the first time.
Here are some ways to practice self-compassion:
1) Daily Self-Compassion Journal. Make a note of one or two kind, non-judgmental
statements about yourself or your experiences each day.
2) Take a compassion break. If you notice feeling stressed, or getting upset or angry, try taking a step back. Notice your thoughts, emotions, behavioural urge and bodily sensations (i.e., heart racing, sweating, etc.). Put your hand on your heart, and remind yourself “I am trying the best I can”, “this moment shall pass”. Take a few deep breaths and give yourself a hug. (I know it sounds cheesy, but it works).
3) Be mindful of the “self-critical” talk. If a friend were to speak in a negative way to him/her self, what would you say to that friend? Self-critical talk can sound like, “wow! I am such a loser! I cannot believe I made such a stupid mistake!” Try to re-frame the statement by using self-compassion, “I made a mistake, and it is making me upset. However, I can try to learn from it, and hopefully I will be mindful of it in the future”.
“As soon as you notice you’re suffering you automatically embrace yourself with compassion” (Kristin Neff).
Diedrich, A., Grant, S., Hofmann, M., Hiller, W., & Hiller, M. (2014). Self-compassion as an emotion regulation strategy in major depressive disorder. Behaviour Research and
Therapy, 58, 43-51. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2014.05.006.
Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-101. doi: 10.1080/15298860309032
Neff, K. (2018). Self-Compassion. Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/