How Self-Compassion Helps You Cope With the Ups and Downs of Life

Learning to talk to yourself like you would a friend

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When it comes to personal development, our culture often celebrates those who are self-assured or self-confident. But new research suggests that self-compassion might be a better way to approach success and personal development. For instance, self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, while self-compassion encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations.

And once you acknowledge and accept your flaws, you are more likely to view them objectively and realistically. This, in turn, can lead to positive changes in your life.

Understanding Self-Compassion

Drawn from Buddhist psychology, self-compassion is not the same as self-esteem or self-confidence. Instead of a way of thinking about yourself, it is a way of being, or a way of treating yourself. In fact, according to Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, self-compassion involves treating yourself just like you would treat your friends or family members even when they fail or screw up. In general, self-compassion involves accepting that you are human and that you make mistakes. It also means you do not dwell on those mistakes or beat yourself up for making them.

Dr. Neff was the first person to measure and define self-compassion and offers a number of meditations that can be used to improve your self-compassion skills.

For instance, she also offers several self-compassion exercises you can engage in including affectionate breathing and loving-kindness meditation.

Primary Components of Self-Compassion

When it comes to practicing self-compassion, there are several primary components that are essential to its success.

These include being kind to yourself, just like you would be to a friend; being mindful of who you really are, flaws and all; and, allowing yourself the freedom to be imperfect. Here is an overview of the primary components of self-compassion.

Self-kindness

When you practice self-kindness, you recognize that all people are imperfect and that all people have imperfect lives. And you are kind to yourself when things go wrong instead of being critical. For instance, when something goes wrong, Dr. Neff says your first reaction might be to think "this should not be happening." Or, you might think: "I shouldn't have this issue come up in my life. Everyone else is living perfectly happy, normal lives." With this type of negative or unkind thinking, you are likely to experience additional suffering because it makes you feel isolated, alone and different from everyone else.

But with self-kindness, instead of thinking "poor me," you think "well everyone fails once in a while." You acknowledge that everyone has issues and struggles because this is what it means to be human. When you start to think like that, it changes the way you view life's challenges and difficulties. That opens the door for you to grow from the experience.

But if you feel like it's abnormal or that it shouldn't be happening, then you start to engage in self-blame.

Mindfulness

Another component of self-compassion is mindfulness. When you are mindful, you have to be willing to face your pain and suffering and acknowledge it. Most people do not want to do that. In fact, they usually want to avoid it. They want to avoid the pain and go straight to problem-solving. But when life throws you a curve ball, it is important that you take the time to be mindful of how those struggles or failures make you feel and why they might have happened. When you are able to do that, you are much more likely to grow and learn from the situation.

Another thing you need to be mindful of is your inner critic. Self-criticism can be very defeating and often plays on repeat in our minds. But mindfulness allows you to be aware of your shortcomings without passing judgment on yourself. The result is that you will recognize where you need improvement without the pressure of being superhuman.

Imperfection

Once you can accept that it is unrealistic to expect perfection, it will feel like a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders. It also helps you to realize that what you are experiencing is normal and human, and you should not feel bad about it. Additionally, recognizing your imperfections can also help you feel more connected to others because you realize that everyone experiences hardships and difficulties.

Remember, self-compassion is about being kind to yourself and realizing that humans are imperfect, including you. This also requires acknowledging that it is okay to not be perfect. Your flaws and setbacks should help you understand yourself better, not make you stressed out or feel bad about who you are.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

Overall, self-compassion involves recognizing the difference between making a bad choice and being a bad person. When you practice self-compassion, you understand that making bad decisions does not automatically make you a bad person. Instead, you recognize that your value and worth is unconditional. In fact, research has consistently shown a positive connection between self-compassion and overall well-bing. Additionally, self-compassion provides a sense of self-worth. But not in a narcissistic way like self-confidence can at times.

What's more, people who practice self-compassion also have more social connections, higher emotional intelligence, and a greater overall satisfaction with life. They also are more caring, supportive and empathetic.

Meanwhile, research shows that people are self-compassionate have less anxiety, depression, and fear of failure. Research also shows that self-compassion can be a motivator causing people to improve on their mistakes, failures or shortcomings because they view them more objectively.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to being self-compassionate, the first thing you need to address is that voice in your head that is constantly critiquing you. Many times, that voice is way too critical. For example, you may beat yourself up for every little mistake. To be more self-compassionate, you need to recognize that voice and correct it when it veers off course. That doesn't mean you tell yourself how great you are. Instead, you talk to yourself in a kind, nonjudgmental way—the same way you would encourage a loved one. And when you do, life will get a whole lot more manageable.