I invite you to think of a time when you assess that you made a mistake or failed to reach a goal. How did you treat yourself?
Perhaps take a moment to write down what language you used? What mood or emotion was present? How did you feel in your body?
Now read what you’ve written.
Do you tend to beat yourself up and or criticise yourself when things go wrong? Do you perhaps feel exhausted after this?
Now think of a time when your close friend made a mistake or failed at something? How did you speak to them? How did you relate to them? What mood or emotion was present? Did you speak to them the same way you speak to yourself?
Perhaps not! Perhaps you’re more inclined to be compassionate and kind towards your friend?
What are we doing when we criticise ourselves and beat ourselves up? Does it motivate us? Does it make you feel good? Actually, it has an unhelpful effect. It keeps us in stress response (fight, flight, freeze) which then keeps us in un-resourceful moods such as anxiety and can even lead to depression.
Over two decades of research by Dr Kristin Neff has proven that practicing self-compassion helps us maintain a healthy immune system, maintain healthier relationships, increases motivation and cultivates a mood of acceptance. Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure. People who practice self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction.
Self-compassion is rooted in empathy extended toward the self when an individual faces a mistake or failure. According to Neff (2011), self-compassion has three interrelated components:
1. self-kindness: a tendency to apply a caring and tender, rather than judgmental, attitude toward one’s personal failures and taking care of one’s body, mind and soul;
2. common humanity: the recognition that it is only “human” to make mistakes and that one’s suffering is shared by others – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone; and
3. mindfulness, taking a balanced approach toward one’s failures and observing one’s pain with an open heart, allowing all the emotions without resistance.
Acceptance is central to self-compassion— indeed, treating the self with compassion involves, in part, taking an accepting stance toward one’s shortcomings and imperfections.
More specifically, acceptance involves acknowledging that one has a flaw or shortcoming, or that a challenging event, such as a failure, has occurred—and embracing it as a part of oneself. (Neff, 2003)
Research indicates that self-compassion leads people to accept their own imperfections and mistakes. Building on this, the capacity to accept oneself as imperfect may lead self-compassionate people to accept other people’s imperfections, which, in turn, should lead other people to feel that their shortcomings are being accepted. One of the core components of self-compassion, common humanity, entails viewing flaws and inadequacies as a shared human experience. Self-compassion encourages people to see themselves as similar to others, thereby laying the groundwork for accepting others’ imperfections just as one accepts one’s own inadequacies. This is how we cultivate acceptance of and compassion for others.
For me this is key. I have found self-compassion to be the gateway to acceptance. Whilst training as an Ontological Coach I soon realised that shifting to a mood of acceptance was the stepping stone to moving into more helpful moods such as curiosity, wonder, peace, joy and ambition etc. Whilst this seemed so simple, it was not! One cannot just decide to be accepting as I’m sure you’re aware. I also realised that it was not just about accepting circumstances out of my control – it was also about accepting myself just as I am – with all my flaws. How on earth was I going to do this? I was conditioned (by this I mean that I had learnt) to judge myself for any imperfections and for all my mistakes. I discovered that judging myself was activating stress response and this was keeping me in a mood of anxiety and after 40 odd years of living this way I was now suffering from burnout. (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to be more
exact). I wanted to stop the self-judgment – and I knew that breaking this habitual pattern wasn’t going to be easy. I then came across Dr Kristin Neff’s work and once I understood the research and the neuroscience behind self-compassion I began practicing and training.
Of course, I have not mastered this yet – and I can honestly say that practicing self-compassion and now teaching the practice has led me to a place of deeper acceptance of myself, of others and of certain challenging events in my life and in the world. Self-compassion has softened me and opened my heart and this helps me feel more connected and compassionate towards all sentient beings. It helps me come back to the present and to realise that each being is doing the best they possibly can. It helps me open to more possibilities – even in the face of significant challenges and losses I am now able to access HOPE.
I also invite you to do your own research and reading and so here are some links to some articles and websites that may be helpful: