by Gemma Charles
Developing Self-Compassion to Improve Emotional Health
Many of us are raised to analyse our flaws, to compare ourselves to others, and to constantly find ourselves lacking. We are taught that we should feel ashamed of our failings and that being as good as you can be isn’t always good enough. Unfortunately, developing this kind of self-criticism during childhood can have a dramatic impact on self-esteem in adulthood and can also have a negative impact on levels of emotional health and well-being. However, the good news is that it is possible to overcome these kinds of negative mental attitudes and to develop self-compassion: to be kinder to yourself, and stop judging yourself so negatively.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is a relatively new concept that is often presented together with mindfulness but, in reality, it is an incredibly simple one: show the same compassion that you do to others to yourself.
Dr. Kristin Neff, the founder of selfcompassion.org, has written several books on the topic, defines self-compassion as “acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Self-compassion is a learnable skill. If you find that you are being overly critical of yourself then you can stop and instead show yourself some kindness. Effectively, self-compassion is about cutting yourself some slack and relying on yourself for comfort when you need it.
Boost Your Levels of Self-Compassion
If you’ve experienced a setback, made a mistake, or are simply finding everyday life a challenge right now then there are plenty of ways that you can boost your levels of self-compassion to maintain your levels of emotional health. Individuals with high levels of self-compassion have been shown to have a much lower prevalence of depression and anxiety: being kind to yourself can help to protect your mental health. It is possible to make small physical changes to your daily routine that may help you to boost your levels of self-compassion: nourish your body by taking time out to make a healthy snack or meal, revitalise your body by laying down to have a rest, and physically stimulate your body by enjoying a massage. You could even massage your own hands or neck, if you don’t enjoy physical contact with others at moments of stress. All of these techniques will improve how you feel physically, which in turn can help to give your self-compassion a huge boost.
Compassion and Mindfulness
Other techniques that have been shown to boost individual levels of self-compassion include practicing mindfulness (there is a strong and proven link between compassion and mindfulness), and regularly taking time out of your day to give yourself some encouragement. We are often much kinder and more supportive of others than we are of ourselves. Think about what you would say to a good friend or family member who was having a bad day, had made a mistake, or was struggling with their self-esteem: frame that same message to yourself and give yourself a compassionate and nurturing pep talk and accept that nobody is perfect and that it is a mistake to aim for perfection or to compare yourself to others. Simply being you is enough.
The Science Behind Self-Compassion
Skeptical about how simply being kinder to yourself can improve your emotional health? Self-compassion has been proven to be beneficial to physical well-being . In fact, a study in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal revealed that regularly demonstrating self-compassion lead to a reduction in the body’s cortisol levels: Cortisol is more commonly known as the “stress hormone.” As well as reducing your stress levels, practicing self-compassion was also shown to promote both the production and release of Oxytocin, a chemical that is widely known to increase happiness levels and decrease anxiety. Being self-compassionate doesn’t mean accepting mediocrity or not striving to be the best you can be. However, we all make mistakes and we all have failures: self-compassion encourages us to accept this and then let those failures go, so that we can move on with our life and continue to build positive mental health.
About Gemma Charles. Previous to starting a career as a freelance writer, Gemma worked for many years in business and finance. When she became a mother, she turned to writing to support her life, and now she pens articles on diverse topics from news and current affairs to pieces on money matters and emotional well-being.