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What is Self-Compassion and What Is It Not?

Meg Mulroy, LPC

Self-compassion is defined by treating yourself the way you would treat a friend or a loved one who is having a hard time. For a lot of folks, it is easier to give others compassion than it is to give it to ourselves.  For more reading on how to speak and act more compassionately in your life, I highly recommend reading Amanda Ann Gregory’s, LCPC recent blog about ways in which you can work to restructure how you speak to yourself in more compassionate ways. 

 I was given a recommendation to look into to the work of Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD in order to begin a journey of mindful self-compassion in my  life . According to Neff and Germer, the core elements of what make up self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness postulates that instead of attacking and being harsh on ourselves for being inadequate, we offer instead kindness, warmth, and unconditional acceptance. Common humanity is recognizing that all humans are imperfect, we all make mistakes, and no one is immune to suffering. The final component of self-compassion is mindfulness. Turning towards our pain and being with our pain instead of pushing it down or denying it allows us to face the truth of our human experience and gives us the presence of mind to speak and act in a more compassionate way. 

Now that you know what self-compassion is and have tips on how to speak to yourself in the same way that you speak to your loved ones, the next thing to know is what self-compassion is not. I have so many clients who believe they need to be hard on themselves and show themselves no mercy to achieve their goals and get what they want. According to Neff and Germer, these are the most common misgivings about self-compassion: 

Self-compassion is giving yourself a pity party | While self-pity says, ‘poor me’, self-compassion actually recognizes that life is hard for everyone. Research shows that folks who are self-compassionate are more likely to take different perspectives in times of hardship rather than focusing on their own hardship. Self-compassion does not take a ‘woe is me,’ attitude. 

Self-compassion will make me weak and soft | In reality, self-compassion is a huge source of strength and courage that makes us more resilient in tough times. Research shows that self-compassionate folks cope more effectively with tough situations like divorce, trauma, or chronic illness than others. 

Self-compassion is selfish and too self-centered | Giving compassion to ourselves better equips us to give it to others. It’s been found that self-compassionate people are more likely to be caring and supportive in relationships, and more likely to compromise and forgive. 

Self-compassion is lazy and self-indulgent | Because self-compassion focuses on long term solutions instead of quick fixes, self-compassionate people tend to engage in healthier behaviors like regular exercise, healthy eating, drinking less, and preventative medical care.  

Self-compassion just makes excuses for bad behavior | Self compassion actually provides the language and knowledge to admit to our mistakes rather than blaming them on others. Studies show that self-compassionate people take greater responsibility for their actions and are more likely to apologize for their wrong doings. 

Self-criticism is a more effective motivator than compassion | In actuality, self-criticism undermines self-confidence and can lead to fear of failure. When we pivot to a self-compassionate lens, we will still be motivated to reach our goals, but because we care about ourselves, not because we feel inadequate.  If you can practice self-compassion when trying something new, you’ll be less afraid of failing and more likely to try again in spite of your fear of rejection or failure. 

       It’s important to remember that self-compassion is not a judgment or an evaluation. Rather, it is a way to relate to the dynamic environment that is who we are with kindness and acceptance.  Working with a therapist is a great way to build mindful self-compassion skills.  Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our counselors that can help you! 

Sources

Neff, K., & Germer, C. K. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. New York, NY: Guilford Press. 

Gregory, Amanda Ann (2021). How Can I Talk to Myself the Way I Talk to a Loved One? https://www.symmetrycounseling.com/therapy-chicago/how-can-i-talk-to-myself-the-way-i-talk-to-a-loved-one/ 

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