Many of us are brought up to have compassion for other people—for those less fortunate than ourselves and those who are suffering. But what about feeling compassion for ourselves when we are having a hard time? That’s often much harder. New research shows that we all could benefit from some of the good feeling and support that we give others. Call it compassion toward ourselves or self-compassion—it’s a new area of psychological research that is currently being explored.
Many of us respond to our own bad feelings with more bad feelings—and with self-criticism. There we are, feeling stress, confusion, inadequacy or despair. We feel like a wreck—and then along comes that voice in our head that doesn’t help, that makes it worse by saying things such as—I’m such a jerk…I don’t deserve to feel better…What’s wrong with me? Self-compassion turns this on its head. Instead of piling bad feelings on bad feelings, give yourself a break…accept that you are imperfect…acknowledge that most people feel inadequate at one time or another…and invite yourself to be kind to yourself.
Research shows that self-compassion is good for our health. It results in less anxiety and depression—and more optimism and happiness. A 2007 Wake Forest University study found that it helped dieters avoid overeating. And a 2011 study by researchers based at the University of Arizona found that self-compassion helped to promote well-being and discourage long-lasting emotional distress following marital separation.
But how to do it? Christopher Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Guilford Press), recommends using mindfulness as a tool to achieve self-compassion. Here’s how…
In order to overcome “self-cruelty,” you must first silence the nasty thoughts. Mindfulness is the process by which you slow down and quiet your thoughts, becoming aware of your breathing and of the sights, sounds and smells around you. In this state, you become aware of what is happening in the moment. You are aware of your thoughts and you accept them, without judgment, as they come in and out of your mind. Being mindful gives you a chance to change the conversation.
Here is where self-compassion comes in—and where you change the way you talk to yourself. Imagine that you are talking to a child or a friend who has failed to accomplish a task. Chances are, you wouldn’t scold or punish that person. Instead, you would encourage him or her to do better next time. That’s exactly what you do when you show yourself some compassion—you shine some encouragement and helpfulness back on yourself.
So the next time you are feeling down on yourself, try a little mindful self-compassion. You’ll feel better for it.