This Uncommon Practice Will Support You in Tough Times
Surprising ways self-compassion improves health and resilience.
Posted Jan 27, 2018
Most of us know that showing kindness and compassion for others is good for our health. Fewer of us are aware that practicing SELF-COMPASSION can help us be more resilient in the face of hardships - and even protect us from depression and anxiety!
Yet - self-compassion is not a common practice in our culture - which perceives self-compassion as over-indulgent, selfish, and self-excusing.
Fortunately, the research on self-compassion indicates quite the opposite.
Because this is an area of restorative practices where I need more exercise, I plan to work on this uncommon skill in 2018.
Below is a summary of the research from Dr. Neff's self-compassion.org site.
What Self Compassion Does for Us
- Protects against feelings of depression and anxiety – even when focusing on one’s limitations
- Reduces rumination
- Lowers cortisol levels and helps people recover more quickly from stressful events, such as divorce and even trauma
- Helps people take responsibility for mistakes without becoming defensive, overwhelmed or depressed by the incident (e.g., loss of important point for a team)
- Helps people experience more happiness, optimism, curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions (such as enthusiasm, inspiration, and excitement) compared to people who are self-critical
- Increases people's ability to hang in there when witnessing tough situations and to forgive others Increases motivation to try new things (less fear of failure)
- Improves ability to get back in the game after a temporary failure (e.g., when trying a new diet or quitting a habit)
- Improves relationships
What Self Compassion IS
According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion has three major components:
1) Mindfulness: the first step is to be aware of our feelings and thoughts - especially self-critical ones - without loosing ourselves in them.
If we are pushing our thoughts away, or trying to be stoic, or - on the opposite end - drowning in them - we cannot practice self-compassion. So, the first step is to simply acknowledge to ourselves that we feel sad, disappointed, hurt, worried, or frustrated.
2) Shared Humanity: the second step is to remind ourselves that hardship, stress, and even suffering are all parts of the human experience - as are mistakes, poor decisions, and misfortune. We are far from alone.
On the contrary, many people share our experience of sadness, disappointment, hurt or anxiety. Many have been through something similar.
Depression, paralysis and rumination are aided by our belief that we are alone in our misery and clumsiness.
The truth - that we are connected to others through our shared feelings and shared imperfections - helps us get up and try again.
3) Kindness to Self: the final step is to be patient, supportive, forgiving, and gentle with yourself when you don't do something well - just as you would with a good friend.
What Self Compassion IS NOT
- NOT SELF-PITY - which leads people to feel more isolated and alone - rather than part of a larger whole, as self-compassion does.
- NOT SELF-ESTEEM - which focuses on positive evaluations of our successes, rather than focusing on being kind to ourselves in the face of our imperfections, as self-compassion does.
- NOT COMPASSION FOR OTHERS - which is a great practice, but can exist without kindness to self, and often does.
- NOT AN EXCUSE TO BE MEDIOCRE - as self-compassion has been shown to motivate people more effectively than self-criticism does.
How to Strengthen Your Self-Compassion Muscles
Just like gratitude, self-compassion is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice.
Dr. Neff's website has several exercises and guided meditations that have been shown to increase self-compassion in studies. One quick one you can do any time, anywhere, is the "self-compassion" break.
At your desk, in your car, in the shower, or in line at the grocery store you can start practicing self-compassion immediately.
In fact - let's try it right here right now. No better time than the present.
Think of something you have been down on yourself about. Ready? Go.
1. Awareness: Name your negative feelings.
"I'm so bummed about this."
"I am really hurt."
"That was so disappointing!"
2. Shared Humanity: Remind yourself you are not alone.
"Pain and struggle are a normal part of life."
"I know other parents struggle this way too."
"I know I am not alone. Many of my colleagues share this experience."
3. Kindness: Give yourself some patience and generosity.
"May I be strong and patient through this hardship."
"May I be kind and forgiving about this."
"May I give myself the kindness I need at this time."
How do you feel now?