Self-Compassion: The Importance of Being Kind To Yourself
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness.
Inner peace doesn’t come easily; yet learning to love yourself and practice self-compassion are important life skills essential for self-growth and development, for self-compassion and our well-being are inextricably linked. You can be a great, kind and loyal best friend to others, but your own harshest critic, which is very self-defeating; a destructive form of self-sabotage if ever there was one.
Being kind to yourself is important to avoid depression, misery and sadness; you have to give yourself positive daily messages to build and retain self-confidence, self-worth and your own inner peace and happiness. And self-care isn’t about being indulgent – in fact, it’s vital for our good health and well-being.
Brisbane psychologist Kobie Allison, 31, concurs, with self-compassion a hot topic in psychology right now. The psychologist/director of a private practice – which specialises in children, teens and families and acute and complex trauma – says self-compassion is essentially the art of being your own best friend.
Kobie, (pictured), says research has shown that a lack of self-compassion can lead to “depression, anxiety and stress, eating disorders, perceived helplessness, negative affect, and maladaptive coping behaviour.”
“In essence, self-compassion is treating oneself as worthy of the upmost love, respect, warmth, care and compassion,” she says. “Self-compassion is giving to you, what you so freely give to others.
“It is the inner-realisation that your feelings matter, that your pain and suffering matter, that ultimately you matter. Self-compassion is embracing and allowing your humanness and suffering to be exposed to yourself and others, and to experience this with self-kindness and respect.”
Kobie says American self-compassion expert, Dr Kristin Neff defines the three vital elements of self-compassion as:
Self-kindness: Being empathic, forgiving, sensitive and warm towards ourselves when we have suffered, failed, or we feel inadequate.
Common humanity: Recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of being “human”. It is our shared human experience of feeling vulnerable and imperfect that provides a connection to others through our shared human experience.
Mindfulness: This allows people to observe their negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness, rather than suppressing or denying their feelings.
So, we know that self-compassion is imperative for our own happiness, but how does it affect our close relationships? “People with higher levels of self-compassion report higher levels of life satisfaction, social relatedness, reflective and affective wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration, optimism, emotional intelligence, self-determination and more,” Kobie says.
“And research has also shown that self-compassion is also a positive predictor of healthy romantic relationships. It is through cultivating a sense of kindness, common humanity and mindfulness that we are enabled to be kinder and more supportive to those we care about.
“Interestingly, Kristin Neff found that individuals who practice self-compassion, tend to describe their partners as more affectionate, intimate, accepting and autonomous. In summary, this researcher noted that if an individual has a high-level of self-compassion, they are able to better take responsibility, forgive, and learn and grow from experience.
“In addition, an individual who is able to meet their own emotional needs through self-compassion, places less expectation and pressure on their loved ones. This allows both partners to be more giving and generous with one another.”
So, rather than falling prey to the self-destructive “princess myth” and looking for that white knight to rescue you, Kobie says look within for strength and the ability to self-soothe and calm, as relationships based on need often lead to drama and disappointment. What’s more, if you’re having a really bad day, practising the art of self-compassion can really help.
“Self-compassion can aid a person in times of suffering, such as having a bad day. Suffering affects our happiness, the happiness of those around us, and our behaviours throughout the day,” Kobie says. “For instance, suffering can lead to stress, frustration, anger towards others, feeling bad about yourself, feeling rushed, distraction, procrastination, not exercising, unhealthy eating and a lack of gratitude.
“Therefore, developing a self-compassion practice allows us to approach triumph and tribulation with understanding, kindness and compassion. So, rather than beating up ourselves up, we should instead acknowledge our suffering and ask ourselves: “What do I need in this moment? What kind gesture can I provide myself in loving-kindness?”
So, in learning self-compassion, Kobie advises us to try taking a “self-compassion break”. Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that’s causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Now, say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering: That’s mindfulness. Other options include:
- This hurts.
- This is stress.
- Suffering is a part of life: That’s common humanity. Other options include:
- Other people feel this way.
- I’m not alone.
- We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.
- May I be kind to myself: Say this to yourself. You can also ask yourself: “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
- May I give myself the compassion that I need.
- May I learn to accept myself as I am.
- May I forgive myself.
- May I be strong.
- May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night and is said to help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.
Image via psychcentral.com