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Applying Self-Compassion When Your Mind Spins Out of Control

Work through resistance to live the life you truly want.

Key points

  • Self-acceptance is correlated with increased physical health and well-being, greater resilience, and lower rates of anxiety and depression.
  • Individuals are reluctant to cultivate self-acceptance for fear of complacency, mediocrity, and a lack of motivation to change and grow.
  • To effectively cultivate self-acceptance, we need to be consciously aware of and work through our resistances.
Avi Richards/Unsplash
Source: Avi Richards/Unsplash

People fear accepting all aspects of themselves and others. They worry they’ll get complacent, accept mediocrity, and lack the motivation to change and grow. Interestingly the opposite is true; personal acknowledgment along with acceptance fosters confidence building and movement toward self-love and self-compassion.

The Benefits of Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance and self-forgiveness have been correlated with overall improved physical health and well-being.[i] Those who practice self-acceptance have lower rates of anxiety and depression, despite external circumstances and stressors.[ii] Low self-acceptance increases oxidative stress.[iii] This increases free radicals in the body and possible imbalances regarding antioxidants, which, in turn, may cause cell or tissue damage that promotes disease and premature aging. Practicing and implementing self-acceptance is critical to satisfaction and stress reduction, which reduces anxiety and depression and helps mitigate physical challenges related to psychological stress.

Self-acceptance has been linked to an increase in positive emotions as it focuses us on our strengths and reframes our point of view. Kristen Neff, a premier researcher on self-compassion, shares that the practice of self-compassion can increase our well-being as well by cultivating “greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.” [iv] If instead of thinking, “I really messed up this time. I can’t do anything right,” when someone doesn’t do well on a task, they practice self-acceptance, the monologue becomes: “I tried my best. I’m disappointed, but I’m also human. I know I’m smart and capable of doing well in the future regardless of this less-than-ideal performance.”

Self-acceptance not only includes accepting what we like about ourselves or consider favorable attributes but also imperfect or less favorable attributes. It’s easy to fall into the self-criticism trap, to be hyper-focused, hung up on our “less-than-ideal” parts and previous mistakes, or blame ourselves for misgivings. Self-acceptance says we are born enough, and as part of being human and having human experiences, we are perfectly imperfect.

Working Through Resistance and Toward Acceptance

There are ways in which we act out our resistance to self-acceptance and fail to be self-compassionate. As a result, we wind up repeating detrimental behavior patterns, denying ourselves the ability to become our best selves and who we strive to be.

For my new book ACE Your Life,[v] I have developed the ACE Method for behavior change to facilitate being our best selves and living the life we want based on the pillars of acceptance, compassion, and empowerment. Acceptance is the first pillar by which to strive toward living the life we want.

To cultivate acceptance, we need to be informed about how we act out our resistances. With this awareness, we can commit to being in the present moment. We can be with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings it evokes, challenge our perpetual way of thinking and behaving, and proactively make efforts to shift our behavior toward our values. Moreover, we can act based on how we want to be rather than based on our thoughts and feelings that may not be serving us well.

How We Act Out Our Resistance

  • Deny and avoid what is happening: Denial and avoidance are classic defenses and resistances to confronting feelings, especially uncomfortable ones. They serve to protect you from what you may not want to face because it’s too emotionally charged and/or distressing.
  • Try to minimize challenges: If your challenges are minimized, there’s the perception that they’re not all that important, they don’t impact you that much, and there’s less urgency and need to work on them. It gives you an out in the case you subconsciously feel that things can get too “unwieldy,” “out of control,” or “emotionally intense.”
  • Come up with rationalizations for the way you and things are: These rationalizations tend to deflect personal responsibility and serve as a defense against seeing parts of yourself as imperfect or off-putting.
  • Blame others: Recognizing your role in and responsibility for your circumstances is challenging. Facing yourself in your process toward self-acceptance may necessitate self-reflection, self-awareness, and proactive change. Blame is another way of avoiding the discomfort of proactively evaluating your self-perception, confronting yourself and others, and setting appropriate and healthful boundaries.

Think of a recent situation where you felt activated and which caused you distress. Reflect on how willing you were to accept how you were thinking, feeling, or instinctually wanted to behave on behalf of that situation. What resistances were coming up for you when you experienced the array of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and behavioral instincts?

Next time, challenge yourself to acknowledge, observe, be curious about, and be with it all without immediately taking action. Identify the resistance and commit to facing it head-on. Identify the part of you that’s hurt, disappointed, fearful, sad, or any other feeling that may be below the surface. Speak or act from that space while mindfully asserting compassion and your values, keeping your best self and the life you want in mind.

While it’s OK to initiate efforts for improvement, there needs to be more emphasis on us being fundamentally whole, worthy, and OK as we are. You don’t need to aspire to any ideals or specific states of mind. It doesn’t make you bad or wrong because you’re not inherently happy, struggle with gratitude, are impulsive or emotionally sensitive, etc. You are who you are. Accepting and facing yourself, and particularly your resistances, can help reinforce your self-acceptance. You’re willingly taking committed action to notice your human imperfections and frailty and deciding that despite it all, you’re worthy of self-compassion and self-love. A gift we’re undoubtedly all deserving of.

Here is a Heart Chakra Guided Meditation led by me.

References

[i] Davis, D. E., Ho, M. Y., Griffin, B. J., Bell, C., Hook, J. N., Van Tongeren, D. R., DeBlaere, C., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Westbrook, C. J. (2015). Forgiving the self and physical and mental health correlates: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(2), 329–335. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000063.

[ii] Chamberlain, J. M., and Haaga, D. A. F. (2001). Unconditional self-acceptance and psychological health. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 19, 163–176. https://doi. org/10.1023/A:1011189416600.

[iii] Fadaee S. B., Beetham K. S., Howden E. J., Stanton T., Isbel N. M., & Coombes J. S. (2017). Oxidative stress is associated with decreased heart rate variability in patients with chronic kidney disease. Redox Rep, 22(5):197-204. doi: 10.1080/13510002.2016.1173326. Epub 2016 Apr 19. PMID: 27090392; PMCID: PMC6837656.

[iv] Neff, K. D. (2016). The Self-Compassion Scale is a valid and theoretically coherent measure of self-compassion: Erratum. Mindfulness, 7(4), 1009. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0560-6.

[v] Maidenberg, M. P. (2022). ACE Your Life: Unleash Your Best Self and Live the Life You Want. Morgan James Publishing: NY.

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