Inside: Practicing self-compassion will lower self-judgment and depressive symptoms, decrease stress, increase resilience and feelings of self-worth.
Self-compassion is fundamental to living with purpose, health, and joy, and for sustainable and meaningful growth. Self-compassion is also a key tool in learning to quiet the noise of comparison, perfectionism, and fear. There are two kinds of self-compassion: gentle self-compassion (keep reading to learn more) and fierce self-compassion.
According to Kristin Neff, associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s department of educational psychology and Creator of the Self-Compassion Scales widely used in research, self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering (self-kindness), seeing one’s failures as part of the human condition rather than feeling isolated (common humanity), and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions (mindfulness). Sounds amazing, right?
Self-compassion and self-esteem are not the same thing. When compared in research, self-compassion predicted more stable feelings of self-worth than self-esteem and was less attached to specific outcomes (this is what I mean when I say I “hold things loosely” or stay “open up to joyful possibility”). Self-compassion was also linked to less social comparison, public self-consciousness, self-rumination, and anger. Talk about freedom!
We can absolutely be compassionate toward others even when lacking in self-compassion (the research bears this out); however, I am convinced that to show up fully to life including choosing to receive the fullness of gifts and beauty that life has to offer (including the opportunities to stretch and grow) and to thrive even in the midst of challenges, self-compassion is a must.
And by the way, there are TWO forms of self-compassion: tender self-compassion and fierce self-compassion.
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The best way to ditch self-doubt and walk in confidence is to practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion leads to less self-judgment and lower depressive symptoms. It increases resilience and a sense of capacity. And because it has a direct and immediate positive effect on our psychophysiological experience of stress (alpha-amylase activity, heart rate variability, and interleukin-6 response) it also leads to improved health behaviours and overall physical health.
Reduction in perceived stress means that people respond to their personal failures, struggles, and difficult circumstances with a kind and forgiving attitude. I suspect it’s also tied to a more hopeful attitude because self-compassion also makes way for a growth-mindset.
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, teaches about “growth mindset” which is tied to neuroplasticity and the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed. Having a growth mindset boosts resilience, positive emotions, and a person’s capacity to bounce back quickly from struggle, failure, or loss.
Self-compassion and a growth-mindset are required for us to become the fullest, healthiest versions of ourselves. Becoming our healthiest and most integrated selves requires a realistic assessment of who and how we are, of both our strengths and limitations. We must get honest about who we are, where we are, our stories and struggles, and our gifting too. First, we need to see and tell the truth about who we are, then we can take positive action to move closer to who and how we choose to be.
Yet another benefit of practicing self-compassion (and of a growth-mindset), is that it helps us live with courage. We become less afraid of “failure” – we know that failure is normal and we’re able to work toward meaningful goals without attaching our worthiness to the outcome. We are less worried about judgment from self or others and this opens the way for us to try, experiment, risk, be honest, do hard things, and so on.
Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston and researcher on the topics of courage, vulnerability, and shame, speaks to the “ordinary courage” of speaking from our hearts and living wholeheartedly. She teaches that courage is a requirement for living our best lives because to do so requires great vulnerability and even risk. We will get hurt, we will face rejection or challenges, and without self-compassion, we are unlikely to choose this path.
Self-compassion also allows us to see differently. It helps us see ourselves as messy and complex rather than broken, or in progress as opposed to bad or a failure. It makes room for joyful possibility and “all or something” instead of an “all or nothing” perspective. Self-compassion is essential for learning to embrace our imperfection (or common humanity) and even having a sense of humor about it, for making peace with the messiness of life – and picking up joy anyway.
RELATED: Enjoy my interview with Coach & Author, Jennifer Louden, about Courageous Living & Relationships in the Messy Middle of Life ♥️ – Click here to watch on YouTube.
Why does walking in Self-compassion matter to you?
1. Research demonstrates slightly lower self-compassion in women compared to men (but women reported higher compassion for others compared to men). Rate your level of self-compassion from 1-10 and take note of your response. Check-in periodically and note any shifts.
2. What are your immediate feelings and thoughts that surface when reading about this topic? Notice any sensations in your body, write down the thoughts you’re having, notice if you’re feeling resistance or openness to the idea of offering yourself the gift of self-compassion.
3. Pull out a notebook and pen or head out for a meandering walk as you spend time in reflection. Consider examples from your life where you are not being kind to yourself, or not as kind as you’d like. Think about how life would feel differently if you committed to living with self-compassion.
4. Why do you think learning and practicing self-compassion and self-kindness matters to you – what are YOUR motivations for growing, healing, or becoming in this area?
5. Consider the roots of your current patterns of thought and behaviour – was self-compassion modelled to you? What stories did you grow up believing about yourself? Can you think of an event or life experience that made you believe that treating yourself kindly was wrong or selfish?
6. Do you have role models in life? What draws you to them – list out the characteristics about them you admire and/or want to grow in yourself. Then think about how living from a place of self-compassion might help you move closer to the vision of who and how you want to be.
7. If there is ONE area of your life that you most want to change, name it and write it down to acknowledge it. Then consider how to use both gentle self-compassion and fierce self-compassion to take action on this goal/desire.
May this be a year of gentle growth, letting go of what no longer serves, and deepening your roots of self-awareness and self-compassion.
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