“Self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop asking, ‘Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?’ Right here at our fingertips we have the means to provide ourselves with the warm, supportive care we deeply yearn for. By tapping into our inner well-springs of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted and alive.” —Dr. Kristin Neff, author Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #122
The voice in our head that is always contemplating the negative or worse case scenario, the inner critic who berates us for the mistakes no matter how minor and refuses to congratulate if a flaw or wrinkle is apparent. The irony is while we think being tough on ourselves, towing a tough line and holding our feet to the fire is beneficial on the road toward success and ultimately happiness, the opposite is actually true.
As revealed in Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff, the reality is self-compassion is the key to the successful and content life we seek.
So how do we develop the voice in our head that does us no favors, even if we initially think it does? Dr. Neff shares that how we were raised, how we were taught, the community around us most often is the influencer of the belief that tough-love is the best love for getting something done. Now, you may be wondering, shouldn’t we be disciplined and be given guidelines to follow in order to be safe and successful? Absolutely. But it is the extreme scenarios, the scenarios that are used to scare, that do us a disservice.
Contrarily, when we are given the truth, when we seek out the truth and acquire knowledge, providing ourself with options and scenarios, we realize that mistakes are inevitable, and beating ourselves up even more for making them will only prevent us from moving forward more quickly or at all.
As someone who is notoriously hard on herself and has been from a young age, I have become aware that being overly self-critical is not as effective. Why? It attacks my self-esteem, it weakens my self-confidence and the only person I have to blame is myself. Ignorantly, I used to think I was helping myself out by being tough on myself. As well, I didn’t feel it was right to be caught “bragging” about my accomplishments. In reality, it isn’t bragging if it’s the truth, someone asks and you respond with decorum. Confidence and success are contagious, and people innately want to be around these qualities rather than their counterparts. Before I go any deeper into my experience of realizing having self-compassion is a necessity to living well, let’s talk about the benefits Dr. Neff shares.
1. Fewer negative thoughts and emotions
Whether it’s fear, irritability, anxiety or anger, negative feelings become fewer and fewer for those who embrace the habit of being self-compassionate. How do they become fewer? It actually has to do with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your thoughts without accepting them or entertaining them to be entirely true (or even true at all). The key is to acknowledge how you are feeling, have the wherewithal to note that these are feelings and they will pass and you need not accept them entirely.
2. Able to experience negative emotions, deal with them and move forward
As much as we might want all negative emotions to be erased from our lives, in reality, this can never happen. But what can happen when we refuse to deal with what we’re feeling and find out why we’re feeling is that we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. When we practice self-compassion, we are trusting ourselves to be able to deal with our emotions, the good and the bad, face them, deal with them and allow ourselves to move forward.
3. Understand perfection isn’t possible
When we truly accept that we are imperfect beings, we liberate ourselves. And by setting ourselves free, we are giving ourselves compassion. We know we are doing our best, and sometimes our best will not be enough. During those times when things do not work out, we must not beat ourselves up, but rather turn to the habit of self-compassion to nurture ourselves back to feeling like ourselves.
4. Higher emotional intelligence
According to Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, those with more self-compassion have a higher EQ. The gift that self-compassion brings to our lives is that it helps us move on, move forward and recover from tough emotional experiences rather than being weighed down by them. Why? Emotionally intelligent people have more perspective on their problems, understanding that they aren’t the only ones who have experienced or felt what was causing them pain at the moment, and they also understand it will pass.
5. More success in attaining goals
Individuals who practice self-compassion experience more success because they get out of their own way. When the going gets tough, they realize the only way to get past it is to move through it, not be held back by it. Using all of the approaches to negative emotions and difficulties above, they aren’t held down by imaginary obstacles.
6. Change the quality of your entire life
Self-compassion is a vital tool in cultivating a life that is full of contentment no matter what is going on in our lives. How? It’s a mind shift. The quality of our lives is largely due in part to how we think we are doing. And since all we can do is our best and respond to the best of our ability at the time an obstacle or challenge arises, when we are self-compassionate, we don’t expect more and we applaud ourselves for all that we’ve done and are doing. While most of us don’t want to brag or come across as narcissistic, we do need to pat ourselves on the back, regularly. How? It can be in our daily journal, a mindful meditation, a walk in which we revel in the ability to savor the simple everyday moments we are given and have created for ourselves.
7. Healthier relationships
When you are someone who has self-compassion, you rely less on others to fulfill you, and instead look to yourself, having confidence that you can take care of your own emotional needs. And when you are secure in your ability to care for yourself, the relationships you seek and then build are healthier as well as you are capable of giving more fully and without expectation.
When we embrace the idea of being self-compassionate, we embrace the reality that whether or not anyone else tells us we’re going to be okay, that we’re okay just as we are, it all begins with believing it ourselves. And when we believe it ourselves, we don’t need to seek outside approval.
Examples of self-compassion:
- Monitor the talk you allow in your head: refrain from name-calling, making absolute negative statements; instead how you would you speak to someone who needed support, love and understanding?
- Surround yourself with uplifting quotes, ideas and images (in your iPhone/smart phone, on your inspiration wall, in your planner, etc.)
- Practice guided meditation – try the app Headspace
- Make time for activities you love without apology. Understand it is necessary, a means to a better you.
- Soak in beauty – visit a museum, take a walk in nature without technology, explore an exhibit
Having self-compassion may be uncomfortable to embrace at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it becomes to confront and more quickly move through negative thoughts, emotions and experiences. Believe it or not, it is our heart we must open to ourselves, and then we will be better able to open it to the world and trust that no matter what the world does, we will be just fine as we have built our own community of comfort within ourselves.
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