You're so stupid! What a loser! You look like a total cow in those jeans!
Would you talk this way to a friend - or even to a stranger for that matter? Of course not. (Or at least I hope not! If you do please don't invite me to your next dinner party!) Its natural for us to try to be kind to the people we care about in our lives. We let them know it's okay to be human when they fail. We reassure them of our respect and support when they're feeling bad about themselves. We comfort them when they're going through hard times. In other words, most of us are very good at being understanding, kind, and compassionate towards others.
But how many of us offer that kind of compassion to ourselves?
For the past decade or so I've been conducting research on self-compassion, and have found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.
It makes sense. When our inner voice continually criticizes and berates us we end up feeling worthless, incompetent and insecure, and we often end up in negative cycles of self sabotage and self harm. However, when our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend we can - when we notice some personal failing - feel safe and accepted enough to both see ourselves clearly and make the changes needed for us to be healthier and happier.
But what is self-compassion exactly? Drawing on the writings of various Buddhist scholars, I have defined self-compassion as having 3 main components:
(b) a sense of common humanity
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a cold ‘stiff-upper-lip' approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects one's own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that one can take greater perspective towards one's personal shortcomings and difficulties. Mindfulness involves being aware of one's painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one's life. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind: a compassion that can be extended toward the self when suffering occurs through no fault of one's own - when the external circumstances of life are simply too painful or difficult to bear - or else when our suffering stems from one's own mistakes, failures or personal inadequacies.
Much of the research conducted on self-compassion has used the Self-Compassion Scale I created. If you want to test your own self-compassion level and find out if you need to start being kinder to yourself, go to: http://www.self-compassion.org/test_your_self-compassion_level.html
Once you've figured out how much or little self-compassion you have, you can start working on how to apply it, increase it, or get it in the first place. If you're interested in doing so, you may also want to order my new book "Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind," which has dozens of exercise to increase self-compassion.
In my next blog - Self-Compassion and Motivation - you'll learn about the most common roadblock to self-compassion - confusing self-compassion with self-indulgence. At long last, we can stop beating ourselves up and start being kind to ourselves. As you'll come to see, we can be much more effective when we motivate ourselves with love not fear.