Blog Short #34: The Value of Self-Compassion
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
How many of you were raised with the sentiment “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”?
It usually makes an appearance when you’ve made a mistake and you’re resisting fixing it, or there’s some issue you aren’t facing up to.
This phrase is kind of a metaphor for the American value of being tough-minded, thick-skinned, and industrious all at the same time. It goes along with our can-do mindset.
There’s something good about it in that it’s meant to move us past our fears and regrets and continue on. The problem arises when it’s accompanied by the litany of self-criticism that usually follows.
Implied in the statement is the idea that we’re self-indulgent and give into weakness, or worse, laziness. It can feel more like you’re being told “Don’t be a sissy!” So if we can beat ourselves up enough, we might get rid of the guilt and stigma of not being tough enough.
This is where the idea of self-compassion comes in, which is today’s subject.
Self-Compassion versus Self-Criticism
Self-compassion is a practice that confirms our worth and allows us to acknowledge and work through our suffering, while also helping us take responsibility for ourselves.
In other words, it’s an alternative way to pull ourselves up and deal with things, but without destroying ourselves in the process.
Whereas self-criticism – especially harsh and unforgiving criticism – tries to beat us into submission, self-compassion soothes and validates us and makes us ready to face our mistakes and failures.
Self-criticism and self-judgment:
- Do not make us better. You can’t beat yourself into being a “better person.”
- Do not help us own up to things or be truthful with ourselves about our failings, because we want to avoid the self-hatred and judgment that follows.
Self-compassion allows us to:
- Accept our mistakes, failings, and disappointments in ourselves.
- Accurately observe our frailties, own them, and make improvements.
- Treat both ourselves and others with compassion and understanding.
- Soothe our suffering, even when we’re at fault.
- Set boundaries when needed without being cruel or unkind.
The practice of self-compassion actually helps us be more responsible for ourselves, while maintaining our worth and sense of self.
Dr. Kristin Neff, in her book Self-Compassion, outlines three core components of self-compassion, but today I’m going to review only two of them. They are:
- Common Humanity
Let’s go through them, and that will help you get a better understanding of exactly what self-compassion is and how you might apply it for yourself.
Maybe the best way to understand this one is to conjure up the image of a “good” mother. What would the characteristics be?
The first idea that comes to mind is that she would give you unconditional love which means that no matter what you did, she would still love you, even if she didn’t approve of your behavior.
She would let you know when you’re blurring the lines and going off in the wrong direction, and she would pull you back. But she would do it gently, even when acting with firmness.
If you made mistakes, she would soothe you and acknowledge your suffering, while also helping you figure out how to make reparations or change your behavior.
She would be on your side. She would support you. You would be able to tell her anything, and you would trust her.
Self-kindness is giving this kind of love to yourself.
Instead of beating yourself up when you fall, you would:
- Speak to yourself with kind, gentle words.
- Sympathize with your own pain.
- Soothe your suffering, even if you caused it.
- Stay connected to yourself.
- Embrace your power to accept your mistakes and make repairs, or change directions.
Self-kindness means treating yourself with love and compassion while also owning up to what’s been done and what needs to be done.
By approaching it this way, you’re much more likely to be honest with yourself and to pursue fixing what needs to be fixed.
Self-kindness also allows you to extend more kindness and understanding to others. If you’re highly critical of yourself, you’re likely the same with others. Likewise, if you’re kind to yourself, you extend that outward too.
Now let’s look at “common humanity.”
#2 Common Humanity
Self-criticism is isolating.
When you get hyper-focused on what’s wrong with you, and add a big dose of judgment and self-flagellation to it, you find yourself in solitary confinement. You’re separated from the rest of the world. You aren’t worthy, you don’t fit in, and you’re cut off from love, acceptance, and belonging.
Self-compassion acknowledges the mistakes, but recognizes that we’re all in the same boat. It’s human to stumble along as we traverse the road of life. Sometimes it’s full steam ahead, and sometimes it’s boulders and obstacles along the path. Sometimes we take side roads that go nowhere or dump us in a ditch temporarily.
The point is, we all suffer, we all do things we shouldn’t, and we all do things we should.
When you find yourself in a difficult place, just remember that everyone else goes through pain and suffering, even those who look like they have the world at their fingertips. Keeping this in mind helps and soothes you.
Focus on your commonality rather than seeing yourself as different.
Remember that everyone is doing and feeling the same things you are, even if the presentation isn’t exactly the same.
Feeling connected goes along with being kind and feeling empathy. It makes things less frightening. It keeps your heart open. It allows you to not take yourself quite so seriously, and encourages both humor and emotional resilience.
See yourself as part of the shared human experience.
Getting in the habit of treating yourself with self-compassion may seem difficult to do if you’re used to the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” methodology, followed by the “not good enough” rant.
You can be firm with yourself while also being kind. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and combining them gets better results.
Make these two changes to activate your self-compassion:
- Monitor your self-talk. Use gentle words, delete harsh criticisms, and treat yourself gently, even when you need to apply firmness. Acknowledge your suffering when it’s there, and don’t suppress it. Do this even when you’ve created the circumstances that have caused the suffering.
- Be your own best mother. Get an image in your mind of what that would look like, and use it to help you speak to yourself with kindly.
Give it a try, especially if you aren’t used to it. If you’d like to read more about how to do this, get Dr. Neffs’s book Self-Compassion and read it. It’s definitely worth the time.
That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!
All my best,