How do you talk to yourself when you are going through a setback? Researches have shown that our well-being is positively correlated with the way we talk to ourselves. Repetitive self-criticism such as “Nobody likes me,” “I am worthless,” or “I can’t do anything right” is counter-effective to our psychological well-being.
Yet many of us can get stuck in such self-criticism, especially when we experience an event that is emotionally charged. It tends to persist in our mind for a long period of time. What can we do about it? Researchers suggest that one effective way to handle such self-criticism is self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
To have compassion for others is to be concerned for their well-being, to care about them, and to have empathy for them. In short, it’s an expression of love.
Self-compassion is the ability to direct those same emotions towards oneself. It’s the difference between believing yourself to be a bad person for the mistakes you made and recognizing that you’re human, humans make mistakes, and that doesn’t make you a bad person.
It is not easy to bring out self-compassion, particularly in the aftermath of failure or defeat. People who are otherwise compassionate individuals can be those who are the hardest on themselves. The good news is that this is a skill that can be trained.
The Pillars of Self-Compassion
Kristen Neff is a pioneering researcher who is widely recognized as the first to bring an academic definition to the concept of self-compassion. She describes it as having three components:
Self-kindness involves being gentle with oneself when one experiences an emotional event. It is the power to avoid getting mired in self-criticism for the mistakes of the past. It is the recognition that no one is perfect and that the expectation of perfection from oneself is unreasonable. Self-kindness enables us to meet an emotional event with warmth, treat ourselves with warmth, accepting it as a part of being human.
There can be a tendency for someone to drift towards isolation when one experiences the frustration and disappointment of falling short of one’s hopes and expectations as if they were the only person who is flawed.
In fact, nobody is perfect and everyone is vulnerable and prone to making mistakes. The acknowledgment that mistakes and personal failures are part of shared human experience helps alleviate suffering from persistent emotions. We are all flawed and can suffer from our own shortcomings is a common experience that can be shared.
Achieving self-compassion means being able to give our negative emotions their rightful place in our experience, without exaggeration or minimization. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of our feelings, thoughts, and sensations without judgment. It develops the ability to observe our emotions and thoughts with peace and calmness and without aversive reactions or suppressing them.
Importance of Self-Compassion
The average woman criticizes herself at least eight times a day, according to a survey conducted in 2016. Studies have shown that self-criticism is a strong predictor of depression and it interferes with our ability to achieve our goals.
Self-compassion ameliorates the negative impact of self-criticism, decreases depression and burnout, and/or protects against its negative personal and professional outcomes. It is a positive trait to improve people’s quality of life.
Self-Compassion & Self-Esteem
As explained, self-compassion is an effective way to meet our challenges, but it may seem counterintuitive. Some people may say self-compassion is a form of avoiding a problem head on. Or that we’ll care less about ethics or we won’t be motivated to change or improve ourselves.
However, research shows that with self-compassion, people are more likely to have a growth mindset. Self-compassionate people are more likely to want to fix a past ethical transgression, display more motivation to improve, and more effort spent on improving.
Self-compassion is a more effective way to meet our challenges than another common strategy to boost our self-esteem by simply emphasizing a positive self-image.
Self-compassion may not come naturally to everyone. If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself how you would treat a young child in your situation. By thinking about the kind of compassion you would offer to a child feeling the kind of hurt you are experiencing, you can recognize what you need to give yourself to heal.
It’s common for anyone to become mired in repetitive thoughts of self-criticism like: “That was a really dumb thing to say,” “I’m such an idiot,” “Nobody likes me,” and so on. That can bring about rumination or constantly going over a problem or mistake in your mind without resolution.
A good way to break the cycle of negative thinking and move into self-compassion is to practice mindful meditation. Through mindfulness, you can achieve clarity and awareness of your negative thoughts without judgment. It helps to moderate the emotional response you may be experiencing regarding a given situation. It helps you accept the situation and move in the best direction from there. Take some time and try our sample meditation today.
Mindfulness and self-compassion are key elements to improved well-being in or outside of the office. If you would like to learn more about the role of self-compassion in mindfulness and mindful leadership, sign up for our free 30-minute consultation today.
For more valuable articles like this one, visit our Mindful Leadership Guide.
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