How did you respond the last time you made a big mistake or something important to you ended in failure? You might still chastising yourself or feel ashamed. These harsh, judgemental responses are understandable. We might even feel that being hard on ourselves is something we need to be in order to ‘redeem’ ourselves. However, research shows the self-criticism often backfires, because we become more unhappy and stressed. This can lead to a decrease in our motivation, making us less inclined to strive or achieve our goals.
When we are self-compassionate, we cultivate greater forgiveness for our errors. During those times of disappointment and shame, we make a deliberate effort to take care of ourselves. It might sound strange at first to direct the kindness towards ourselves. If we think of what a supportive friend would do in that situation. When others are kind to us, it can bring us comfort and help us feel better. Self-compassion directs that kindness to ourselves to be our own good friend. We are more likely to take a balanced view of the situation and be soothing towards our own emotional pain.
What does the research say about self-compassion?
Studies carried out by Neff examined how self-compassion related to people’s overall mental health and wellbeing. Self-compassion correlated positively with general life satisfaction; the trait was negatively correlated to anxiety and depression. Later research showed how self-compassion had increased psychological resilience in groups that were at risk of suicide. The reduction of mental anguish in practising self-compassion can also bring physical health benefits, as there is less inflammation in the body with a more muted stress response.
There is a misconception that self-compassion leads to people being ‘let off the hook’, being lazy, self-indulgent or lacking in willpower. Does self-criticism though, help to motivate you towards making positive change? Research again suggests otherwise, as people with high levels of self-compassion are more likely to have greater motivation to correct their errors. Where is a sense of safety developed from being self-compassionate, we are more able to confront our failings, with the courage to make amends.
How do I practice self-compassion?
The good news is that self-compassion can be cultivated, where you focus on feelings of warmth and forgiveness to yourself and others. This can be through meditation practice of loving-kindness, or by composing a letter from the perspective of a good friend. The process of changing the your inner critic to a more friendly voice can also be done through a journal or said aloud to yourself. Love is more powerful than fear, so use that to encourage yourself in a caring and supportive way.
The practice of self-compassion can seem really alien if the self-critic is the well trodden, familiar path. Compassionate Cuppa can certainly help you cultivate a greater sense of self-compassion, that can help you change how you relate to yourself in long term. Feel better and live life well. Find out more or to book your first FREE session on www.compassionatecuppa.co.uk.
Image Description: Notebook, candle, mug, soft fabrics to infer self-compassionate practice