When the media is constantly broadcasting subtle (and not so subtle) messages that you aren’t good enough and that you should be trying to improve yourself with new clothes, or more money, or a better car, or any number of other things, the act of self-compassion is a radical act. It’s radical, but it’s also an act that is vital when it comes to looking after ourselves.
From an early age we are taught that we should try and do our best for those around us. This, in many ways, is a great mantra to live by. The problem comes when we do so at the expense of our own health and happiness.
How often are we told that we should try to be perfect partners, mothers, friends? Just look at the idealised mother on the advert who is holding down two jobs, has a big house, a nice car, genius children, and has all this while wearing beautifully ironed clothes and perfect makeup. Not you? Then it’s simple (or so imply those adverts and carefully posed Instagram posts) – just do better!
It’s beating ourselves up over striving for, and not reaching, perfection that can lead us to the slippery slope of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Practising self-compassion helps to guard against this.
Self-compassion includes three main principles; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. It’s not about being self-indulgent, or wallowing in self-pity as some people have wrongly thought. It’s about looking at situations as they are, and accepting them.
Self-kindness tells us not to be too hard on ourselves when we go wrong, or to deny how we feel. Instead, be understanding and kind to yourself. It’s ok – don’t beat yourself up.
Common humanity is reminding ourselves that none of us are perfect, and that we’re all just trying our best. We shouldn’t feel shame and try to hide perceived imperfections – this can easily lead to isolation. Instead self-compassion embraces your differences, and this recognition and embracing of shared imperfections gives us an increased sense of belonging and contentment with ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is about accepting what we feel and allowing ourselves to feel it. It’s the act of observing situations as they really are and allowing ourselves to feel them more fully. For example, we are naturally sad sometimes, and while bad emotions aren’t fun, it’s important for our health that we allow ourselves to feel them. By suppressing them we just increase our suffering by trying to resist them.
Self-compassion is, in essence, treating ourselves with the same level of care and kindness we would give a good friend. It means being accepting of and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and allowing ourselves to feel the emotions we feel, rather than telling ourselves that we should “snap out of it” and just “do better”. We wouldn’t say this to a friend who’s in pain, so we shouldn’t say this kind of thing to ourselves.