Self-compassion is misunderstood. It’s unfortunate. Because the common myths around self-compassion stand in the way of people improving both their mental and physical health. Self-compassion myths lead people to actively avoid cultivating something that would be extremely beneficial for their health, success, and well being.
When You Make A Mistake, What Do You Do?
What do you say to yourself?
“I’m so stupid! I’m such an idiot!”
“I can’t do anything right. I’m such a screw up. Why even bother?”
“What is WRONG with me?!”
What about when a friend makes a mistake? Do you tell them they’re an idiot and that they should just give up? Of course, you don’t! That definitely wouldn’t help your friend process those emotions and deal with the situation. You instinctively know what your friend needs is to be heard and encouraged with compassion.
However, when it comes to ourselves, we don’t view this scenario through the same lens. We think we HAVE to be hard on ourselves otherwise we’ll be even more of a failure. We believe the only thing preventing us from completely breaking down is this self criticism. People think beating themselves up is the only way to hold themselves accountable. That guilt and punishment are the only way to motivate themselves. However, guilt and shame are actually terrible motivators for authentic, honest behavior.
Think about it.
If you feel guilty and ashamed, you’re more likely to be defensive. Rather than admitting you were wrong or made a mistake, you’ll rationalize your actions and make excuses. The reflexive response to criticism is to be defensive. This is true whether someone else criticizes you, or you criticize yourself. So, by criticizing yourself you stunt your own ability to bounce back from failures.
For instance, Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., the Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, says, “self-criticism makes us weaker in the face of failure, more emotional, and less likely to assimilate lessons from our failures. Studies are finding that there is a far better alternative to self-criticism: self-compassion.”
Ok, but what exactly is self-compassion? After all, that’s the question we’re trying to answer in this post, right?
Dr. Kristen Neff, the leading researcher on the subject of self-compassion, neatly summarizes self compassion by saying, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
Self-compassion is not weakness. Self-compassion requires the emotional strength to fully accept mistakes, because admitting you’re wrong is tough. Furthermore, this means self-compassion is not complacency. Because self-compassion means you’re more likely to see failures as an opportunity for growth, rather than a sign of defeat. Self-compassion puts you in a better emotional frame of mind to improve yourself.
“Self-compassion involves treating oneself as one would a friend, being more mindful, and understanding our situation in the context of a larger human experience. When we can be more understanding and gentler with ourselves, identify less with the emotions that surround our mistakes, and understand that failure is a normal part of the larger human experience, we become stronger and more successful in the long run,” says Dr. Seppälä.
So self-compassion leads to emotional resilience. With self-compassion you can handle failures, mistakes, and struggles better. Instead of ruminating and being crushed by feelings of failure, you bounce back. You learn from mistakes, roll with the punches, and move on.
If you want to become your best self, you need to let go of self-criticism and swap it out for self-compassion.