Can Being Kinder To Yourself Really Improve Your Well-Being?

Self-compassion is the newest form of healing to come out of the modern new-age self-help movement. Sure, compassion is always looked upon favorably, but is it really the right method to use when looking upon your own mistakes and missteps?

August 4, 2015
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There’s a crusade happening, but if you’ve spent the last five years beating yourself up for every mistake, failure, or imperfection, then you probably don’t know about it.

Self-compassion is the newest form of healing to come out of the modern new-age self-help movement. Being kind to yourself and treating yourself like you would a good friend has become the recommended prescription for many mental health ailments and for improving relationships with others. There are self-compassion workshops, workbooks, and even institutes popping up all around the world dedicated to helping people learn how to stop self-flagellating and start self-soothing.

Self-compassion, according to the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, is responding to difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy, and understanding so that you soothe and comfort yourself when you’re hurting. Research done by Kristin Neff, PhD has shown that self-compassion greatly enhances emotional well-being, boosts happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and can even help maintain healthy lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise.

Compassion–the human quality that motivates people to go out of their way to help heal the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another–is by no means a new concept. The practice of compassion has lived in the texts of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity for centuries, and spiritual leaders such as Gandhi and the Dalai Lama have delivered the message of its healing powers.

Compassion is also not new to the field of psychology. Noted psychologist Carl Rogers talked about “unconditional positive regard.” Another American psychologist, Albert Ellis, introduced the notion of “unconditional self-acceptance”–both of which are intended to ease the suffering caused by a masochistic self. Self-compassion, or self-kindness, is an extension of compassion directed toward the self. It’s not the same as self-pity, and it has different effects from self-esteem.

We all know that it’s generally pretty easy to show compassion to other people. A friend goes through a breakup and you tell her to do something nice for herself. Your child gets bullied at school so you take him out for ice cream and tell him he deserves better. When it comes to self-application, however, the practice of compassion becomes much harder.

I don’t know about you, but I find it crazy that I have to learn how to be nice to myself, but at the same time there are days where I certainly wouldn’t want to be the jury if I were the judge.

Pros And Cons

In a culture where we’re driven to go beyond our limits and aspire to unrealistic goals, a moment of self-kindness can go a long way. We also live in a world where perfectionism has become an epidemic and where doing more has become a disease. Self-compassion can ease the pain and suffering that comes with trying to live up to unachievable standards, and it offers a brief reprieve from daily stress.

Do know, however, that it is possible to misuse self-compassion.

Sometimes our most painful emotions are the greatest teachers, and the lessons can only come through suffering. For example, when it comes to an emotion like healthy guilt, applying too much self-compassion may block an opportunity for the learning and understanding that can come from this powerful emotion. Guilt is a challenging emotion to tolerate, so trying to make it “go away” is common. When you read about how self-compassion can mitigate painful feelings you may tell yourself that it’s okay to not feel guilty, when in fact your guilt is the driving force behind the important act of making amends. Letting yourself “off the hook” or making excuses is not the same as practicing self-compassion.

If you’ve hurt someone (even unintentionally) it’s important to heal that rupture for both you and the victim. If you let the guilt go too quickly you could miss an opportunity for this repair and leave the other person feeling unresolved or unable to forgive. Self-compassion shouldn’t be used to erase or replace feelings; it’s a balm that should be applied liberally to ease the pain and the unnecessary suffering that comes from being critical or judgmental of the self.

Fit Or Flop

Self-compassion is a definite fit. Being kind to yourself is not only a commonsense practice, but it’s been shown in research to help with several issues and ailments. Learning to be less self-critical and become more self-forgiving offers both immediate effects and long-lasting benefits.

Don’t expect self-compassion to be a fix-all however, and it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for professional support. This is particularly true with more serious symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Also be mindful of not letting your self-compassion backfire by allowing it to become the source of more suffering. It’s important to remember that even though you can take a workshop or “learn” self-compassion, there are no hard and fast rules for a right way to do it. Like all practices, the more you do it the easier it gets. Not unlike the practice of gratitude and positive thinking, self-compassion should be used as an adjunct to deeper work. Although it offers relief it doesn’t access underlying issues that will continue to surface without the proper treatment.

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