Let’s begin with a small exercise. Take a moment to recollect a difficult time in your life – what was going on? How did it make you feel? Were others ill treating you? It must have been really challenging to overcome something like that.
Think back on how you treated yourself during the entire phase. Were you angry with yourself? Did you try to hurt or punish yourself in some way – maybe you chose to stay hungry or did not allow yourself to enjoy the company of loved ones or do things that you like doing? Were you unkind or rude? How did you take care of yourself throughout this ordeal?
Now imagine that it was someone you loved (a friend/ a family member/ a fictional character that you adore) who went through everything that you did. Would you have treated them any differently from how you treated yourself?
Based on research findings, the chances are that there would be stark differences in how you treated yourself versus how you would have treated a love one in times of suffering. More often than not, we are able to extend kindness, compassion, and understanding to the people we love but engage in heavily critical attitudes and behaviours when it comes to our own selves.
Why is that?
What does it say about the relationship we have with ourselves?
Do we think that this is what it means to be humble? Is this what we were taught by the world while growing up? Does this mean we really don’t love ourselves?
I believe each of us have different answers to these questions and perhaps more ponderings about this. But none of it changes the fact of what is and that’s what I’d like to focus on.
It doesn’t matter where it came from but it matters what we do about it. What is Self-Compassion?
If compassion means ‘concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others’, self-compassion refers to compassion directed inwards to your own self. This means recognizing and acknowledging that you have been/are in pain and being concerned for your wellbeing and practicing kindness towards yourself.
Self-compassion consists of three elements – kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Studies show that we are kinder to others than to ourselves. It is also found that people who are very kind and compassionate towards others often beat themselves up. Self-kindness calls for being supportive and understanding towards our own selves. This means our self-talk should be gentle and encouraging instead of harsh and belittling. Acknowledge the fact that at any point in life you can only do something to the best of your ability at that moment.
At the end of the day, we are all human and nobody is perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes, fail, and be imperfect. That doesn’t make you bad or unworthy of living happily. Everyone is figuring life out as they go and there is no right way or wrong way to go about it, despite certain people, societies, and culture telling us differently. We share our experiences with others and learn from each other. We make choices and live with the consequences. This is life and we are all living it.
You are not alone – not in your pain and not in your loneliness. Everyone experiences this at some point in their life. It’s a package deal that comes with life. It’s hard to face painful emotions and thoughts and our natural tendency towards this is to run away, hide, deny. However, this doesn’t do any good. These feelings and thoughts don’t really go away without being addressed and the more we run away, the more it piles up and the more work we have to do when we come back to face this eventually.
Mindfulness involves being in the moment and allowing yourself to feel and think whatever comes your way without judging it and knowing that these feelings and thoughts are separate from you because they come and they go. Thoughts are not facts. You can think up any ridiculous, imaginary thing out there but that doesn’t make it true. Same goes for the negative thoughts that come to our minds. They are simply thoughts. Not the truth. When something happens and you feel bad about yourself and think that you are not good enough or anything of that sort – remember that these are just thoughts and they don’t define who you actually are.
Why should I practice Self-compassion?
So far, research has proved the following:
Enables people to suffer less and thrive more.
Greater self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression.
Deactivates the threat system and activates the self-soothing system.
It is associated with emotional intelligence, wisdom, life satisfaction, and feelings of connectedness.
Self-compassionate people tend to experience more happiness, optimism, curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions such as enthusiasm, inspiration, and excitement than those who are self-critical.
Self-compassionate people are less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions and more likely to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and important. Instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, positive emotions are generated by embracing negative ones. For this reason, self-compassion is associated with positive psychological strengths.
Self-compassion has been studied to help people cope with early childhood trauma, break up, divorce, and chronic physical pain.
There’s more evidence supporting self-compassion as a positive contributor to overall quality of life. But these should give you an idea about how it works.
If all of us are given one life and nobody really knows everything, then why do wake up and choose to be hard on ourselves for no particular reason? Why are we not able to wake up and choose to be happy? Is anyone actually stopping us from doing this?
Let's not forget - In a world that profits from you being unkind to yourself, practicing self-compassion is a revolutionary thing to do.