And 3 Ways to Start Practicing It Today
A healthy self-image is an important component of our mental and physical well-being. The way we view ourselves ultimately reflects in all of our interactions with others. It affects how we treat our loved ones as well as strangers. In turn, they will then either treat us based on how we make them feel. Our perception of these interactions filters back to our own self-image, completing the feedback loop.
Through cultivating more compassion for ourselves, we have the ability to improve not only our interactions with others, but also our own mental well-being.
Many of us find it much easier to feel compassion toward others than ourselves. Yet without including ourselves, we hamper our ability to feel the depths of our own kindness and inner strength.
EXTENDING THE CONCEPT OF COMPASSION TO OURSELVES
When we feel compassion towards another, we understand our common humanity and our shared desire for peace and happiness. When we think of the suffering going on in the world, we may feel pain or discomfort. This often sparks the desire to help alleviate the suffering when we can — this is compassion wanting to turn itself into action.
Self-compassion is a way for us to accept and embrace all aspects of our humanity, including our weaknesses.
Just as everyone in the world desires peace and happiness, so do we. Everyone has had to deal with challenges and face their own shadows. We are no exception. In realizing this, it becomes easier to accept the fact that we may still have habits, traits, or attitudes that hold us back from moving towards our highest vision of ourselves.
“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.” — Sophia Bush
MORE POWER THAN SELF-ESTEEM
Self-compassion is a concept that is broader than self-esteem. We often try to cultivate more self-esteem without acknowledging the part of us that we do not like. Our inner critic remains alive and well as we then judge ourselves when we don’t accomplish what we had set out to do. It is often at this time, that self-compassion can become a great tool to help us feel inner peace.
Self-compassion focuses not only on celebrating our accomplishments, but also on accepting the parts of us we are still working on. It allows us to accept ourselves in our full humanity. In that acceptance lies tremendous power.
Acceptance is the doorway to change. When we accept something as it is, we immediately create a space from which we can change it. If we don’t own our weaknesses, they own us. We build up mental blocks that prevent us from moving forward in new directions.
“[Self-compassion] is a courageous mental attitude that stands up to harm, including the discomfort that we unwittingly inflict on ourselves through self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-rumination when things go wrong. Self-compassion provides emotional strength and resilience, allowing us to admit our shortcomings, forgive ourselves, and respond to ourselves and others with care and respect, and be fully human.” — Dr. Kristin Neff
5 WAYS SELF-COMPASSION CAN IMPROVE YOUR physical, mental, and emotional WELL-BEING
Self-compassion brings numerous benefits to our emotional well-being. Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas has done vast amounts of research on this topic.
Some of the findings show the following benefits of self-compassion:
Helps decrease anxiety and depression.
Increases resilience, improving our ability to handle challenges and difficult emotions.
Promotes healthy habits such as better diet and exercise routines. This is because we learn to motivate ourselves with kindness rather than criticism.
Increases our ability to savor and appreciate ourselves and those around us, leading to greater levels of life satisfaction.
Can lead to higher quality of relationships as we cultivate more compassion for others and learn to respond to them with more kindness and patience.
The more we understand our own fears, the better equipped we are to overcome them. When we are able to view our own weaknesses without criticism and judgment, we have the power to choose to act from a place of our strengths.
SELF-COMPASSION AS A MOTIVATION BOOSTER
Self-compassion and a desire to grow beyond our limits are not mutually exclusive. When we accept ourselves, we can consciously redirect our mental energy away from our weaknesses and towards our strengths.
If we often face self-doubt, for example, we may allow hesitation to hold us back from moving in a new direction. When self-compassion is brought into the equation, we accept our self-doubt and focus our energy on its opposite — confidence. As we direct our mental energy to feelings of confidence, we start doing little things that help us see the confidence we already have within. Every time we move past our comfort zone, we strengthen the neural networks of confidence and weaken the neural networks of self-doubt.
3 WAYS TO START PRACTICING SELF-COMPASSION TODAY
Self-compassion, just as any other character trait, can be learned. Thanks to neuroplasticity, we can rewire our brains to change our own self-image over time.
Here are 3 ways you can strengthen the habit of seeing yourself in a more positive light:
1. Observe your own self-talk
Do you talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend or do you tend to be your own worst critic? When you catch yourself being judgemental and critical of yourself, try to think of what your best friend would say to you instead. Perhaps flip the situation around — if your best friend was in the situation or mood that you’re in, how would you talk to them? Learn to treat yourself more like you would treat your best friend.
2. Keep track of your strengths
Start writing down and celebrating your personal wins and accomplishments, no matter how trivial they may seem. Bring your attention to the character traits that allowed you to accomplish these. Notice all the wonderful things about yourself that are “right.” When you find yourself in a difficult situation or when that inner critic comes out, bring these to mind.
[I am working on putting together a self-gratitude journal to help people with this. Follow me here on Medium or on the “You Are Essential” FB page to stay tuned! :-) ]
3. Visualize your day
unfolding with more self-compassion
Start your morning with a visualization practice to prime your neural networks to notice opportunities to act with more compassion throughout the day. You can do this in a myriad of ways — the key is to focus on thoughts of compassion for yourself and others long enough until you start to feel the feelings.
1. Focus on the feeling of love, kindness, and compassion.
2. Start with yourself, wishing yourself peace and joy. Know that when you are at peace, you will be able to radiate out to others.
3. Extend your well-wishes out to others. Start with your family, community, and neighborhood. Extend this out until you feel a sense of loving-kindness for all sentient-beings. Let the feeling wash over your whole body.
4. Start your day from this attitude. Remain mindful throughout the day as situations arise — they may be the perfect opportunities to practice turning your inner critic into the voice of your best friend.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool. The more you integrate it into your life, the more you will notice an improved sense of well-being and satisfaction.