Why I Need Self-Compassion

“Love, not judgment, sows the seeds of tranquility and change.” —Danna Faulds

I love my family, I really do, but when we all get together during the holidays, it feels like we just climbed out of a time machine. I could swear that my grown sons start to look and act the same way they did twenty years ago and then, so do I. I always forget to buy something for someone, and I’m sure I’m the only one who ever forgot a gift. My husband and I trip over each other in the kitchen, and candle wax drips all over the table. The hardest thing of all is that every year, I expect it to be different. And yes, I forget to be kind to myself.

But, when I remember that I am not the enemy and that I can treat myself like a friend, things begin to change and a shift in perspective occurs. The boys become men, my husband gets his sweetness back, and the candle wax is still all over the table but it doesn’t seem like the end of the world. These are the gifts of mindfulness and self-compassion.

What is self-compassion, and how do I practice it in everyday life?

Self-compassion is a way to be in our lives that builds resilience and peace of mind. Self-compassion is a combination of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.

  • First, mindfulness: I acknowledge that this is tough, and it feels really hard to be me right now.
  • Second, common humanity:  I remember that mistakes and failures are a part of everyone’s life, not just mine.
  • And last, self-kindness: I remember to be kind to myself, and that makes it a lot easier to be kind to the other equally-flawed humans that I share my life with.

“Okay,” you say. “How hard can it be?”

Well, for many of us, including me, it’s pretty darn hard. The usual message in our culture goes something like this: “You can do better, you’d better do better, and you’d better whip yourself into shape!”

There are many reasons for this harsh attitude toward self-compassion, but taking the time to build these skills can have huge benefits.

Kristen Neff, foremost researcher and teacher of self-compassion, identifies six beliefs that are stumbling blocks to self-compassion and why they are myths.

  1. Self-compassion undermines motivation; self-criticism gets us moving:
    • Research shows that self-criticism undermines confidence and actually leads to fear of failure.
    • Self-compassion, on the other hand, increases confidence and provides the emotionally supportive environment that leads to change.
    • Just like our kids, we learn and grow best when we have an encouraging coach.
  2. Self-compassion is a form of self-pity:
    • Self-compassion remembers that everyone suffers (common humanity) and doesn’t exaggerate the extent of suffering (mindfulness).
    • Research shows that self-compassionate people engage in perspective taking and realize they are not alone in their experiences.
  3. Self-compassion makes you a wimp:
    • Self-compassion is a strength that offers resilience in the face of difficulty.
    • Research shows that self-compassionate people are better able to cope with difficult life situations.
  4. Self-compassion is selfish:
    • Research shows that self-compassionate people are more caring and supportive to others, compromise more, and show more compassion in relationships.
  5. Self-compassion is self-indulgent:
    • Self-compassion wants long-term health, not short-term pleasure (A mother who says, “Eat your vegetables”).
    • Research shows that self-compassionate people engage in healthier behaviors (exercise, eating well, drinking less, and going to the doctor more regularly).
  6. Self-compassion is making excuses:
    • Self-compassion provides the safety needed to admit mistakes, rather than blame others.
    • Research shows that self-compassionate people take greater personal responsibility for their actions and are more likely to apologize when they have offended someone.

Developing these skills takes some effort and a change in attitude, but I’m convinced that it is worth every moment of time it takes me. I hope you will join me on this journey of healing and self-discovery.

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