The Importance of Self-Compassion

We hear a lot about self-care at the moment and there is no doubt that this is very important. We need to pay attention to those nurturing activities, which give help us to relax, unwind and destress. At the heart of this, however, is something bigger – self-compassion.

So, what exactly is ‘self-compassion’?

Self-compassion simply means to extend the positive qualities that we often extend to others, including love, kindness, respect and empathy, towards ourselves. Self-care without self-compassion almost feels like going through the motions – because really caring about yourself means more than indulging in a bubble bath or treating yourself to a massage, it’s about valuing and accepting yourself, warts and all.

We see ‘compassion’ towards others as a very positive quality but self-compassion is not always viewed in quite the same way. It can be seen as slightly self-indulgent or self-serving – almost as if you can’t care about others if you care for yourself too. This doesn’t make much sense – we accept, for example, that we can care for both our parents and our friends – one doesn’t cancel out the other! So, why do we have a different standard when it comes to being kind to ourselves?

So what does this actually mean in practice?

Firstly, we have to learn to accept ourselves for how we are. This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to grow and develop, just that we acknowledge our foibles, forgive our mistakes and cut ourselves a bit of slack when things don’t go according to plan. Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, agrees:

“Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves and realizing that the human condition is imperfect … "

Part of this is the realisation that we are not alone. Talking to others about the challenges that we experience is always useful because it reminds us that whatever we are going through, there is a commonality in the human experience. None of us are perfect but we are in it together – bonded by our shared experience of human fallibility. Making mistakes doesn’t imply that we are ‘screwing up’ or ‘rubbish’; it simply means we are human-beings, who do make mistakes. Giving ourselves permission to be imperfect is important then. We don’t have to define ourselves by our mistakes, which is a liberating feeling!

Positive self-talk is linked to this. Perhaps instead of saying ‘I’m stupid’ or ‘I’ve made a mess of this again’ or ‘I’ll never be able to achieve that’, we could try saying ‘I got that wrong but I’ve learned from it’ or ‘Well done for having a go’ or ‘I have really hard with that’. We all know that self-esteem is related to the words and judgements that we internalise as we are growing up and from people around us. It follows that we internalise our own self-dialogue. If we constantly put ourselves down, then we will constantly feel bad about ourselves – and of course, the opposite is true as well.

Why not try the following exercise to explore your levels of self-compassion:

How do you treat others and how do you treat yourself?

1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation? Reflect on what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.

2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Reflect on what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.

3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?

4. Think about how things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.

Why not try treating yourself with the compassion that you give to a good friend and see what happens?

“Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves and realizing that the human condition is imperfect … "