Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, once said that “Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” If we change the ingredients in our life’s recipe and include some self-compassion, we might be pleasantly surprised with the end results! But what is this thing called self-compassion?
What is self-compassion?
For some people, the term self-compassion sounds self-indulgent; that is, those who practice self-compassion are self-absorbed and care mostly about themselves. However, that is far from the truth. Self-compassion, according to the guru of the concept, Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion and the author of several books, including Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, consists of three elements:
- Being aware of negative feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences but not judging them.
- Granting yourself the same kindness and understanding you would to those whom you love and care for when you experience human imperfections.
- Recognizing that everyone is imperfect and that everyone shares a common humanness and degree of suffering.
Individuals who don’t practice self-compassion may be characterized as having feelings of isolation, unhealthy perfectionism, self-judgment, stress, and depression. When we look at these opposites of self-compassion, it raises the question, what effects could this have on physical health?
The idea that practicing self-compassion supports and promotes healthy mental and emotional well-being has been around for about a decade, and the concept has been supported by numerous research studies. However, there is a growing school of thought that self-compassion also has an integral role in physical health.
Self-compassion and stress
People who possess higher levels of self-compassion have a healthier response in stressful situations, according to a joint US-UK study. Rather than become upset while sitting in a traffic jam or when they have been passed over for a promotion, they dedicate less time to reviewing the situation. This ability to bypass chronic stressful situations has a direct impact on physical health, including factors such as blood pressure, muscle tension, and blood sugar. Individuals who have a healthy control of their response to stress are less likely to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors that can affect physical health.
Other research suggests that self-compassion can enhance a person’s desire to improve or change their life. If you realize you are overweight and need to drop some pounds to improve your chances of longevity and reduce risk of heart disease, for example, a healthy sense of self-compassion can be the trigger you need to take the necessary steps to lose weight and enhance your life rather than give up and sit on the couch.
The findings of a recent Australian study suggest that self-compassion moderates the association between depression and perfectionism, two important aspects of self-confidence. The authors indicated that “self-compassion interventions may be a useful way to undermine the effects of maladaptive perfectionism,” although additional research is needed in this area.
Self-compassion vs self-confidence
According to Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, self-compassion actually beats self-confidence. He noted in a recent New York Times article that “We like confidence because it feels good and gives us a sense of control.” Self-confidence makes you feel good about your abilities. However, it also may cause you to significantly overestimate those abilities.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to face your limitations and to look more closely and objectively at them. For this reason, although both self-compassion and self-confidence are good qualities, experts tend to believe that self-compassion encompasses the best parts of self-confidence while leaving the drawbacks behind.
In addition, Barker notes that culture tends to encourage faking confidence without thinking about the consequences of that line of thinking. For example, if you fake self-confidence, you may actually believe the lie, which can result in unpleasant outcomes.
How to become more self-compassionate
Among the key steps to take to improve your self-compassion is paying attention. When you are fully aware of your thoughts-your self-talk, whether you are judging yourself and others, if you have compassionate thoughts about yourself and others-you are better equipped to evaluate your situation, to forgive and recognize the humanness of all people, including yourself, and show yourself kindness.
It is important that you take the time to be kind to yourself; to take a walk, establish strong bond with loved ones, engage in activities that reduce stress and anxiety, nurture your spirit, immerse yourself in nature, dance, do yoga, or meditate. These and other activities can help you become more self-compassionate and fully recognize your value to yourself and the world.
SourcesFerrari M et al. Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood. PLoS One 2018 Feb 21; 1392): e0102022
Friis AM et al. Does kindness matter? Diabetes, depression and self-compassion: A selective review and research agenda. Spectrum Diabetes Journal 2015 Fall; 28(4)
Homan KJ, Sirois FM. Self-compassion and physical health: exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology Open 2017 Jul-Dec: 1-9
Wong K. Why self-compassion beats self-confidence. New York Times 2017 Dec 28