“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.” ~ Steve Maraboli
There is little doubt that the person we’re most critical of, is ourselves.
We live in a world that encourages us to set goals, strive to be the best that we can be, and then the value of ourselves is often based on our own achievements.
But what happens when that success does not happen or life isn’t working out as planned? More often than not, we start to lose hope, we begin to harshly criticise ourselves and our self-esteem begins to plummet. So, what is the best way to turn this around? Cultivating a good dose of self-compassion.
The eastern wisdom traditions define self-compassion as self-kindness, a conscious awareness that we are human, we share human experiences with others and that not everything is within our control.
Now, this idea of developing practices for being kind to oneself is fast becoming popular as researchers have discovered there is a positive correlation between self-compassion and psychological well-being, particularly in decreasing anxiety, depression, shame and fear of failure.
So what does it mean to be self-compassionate?
- Leading psychologist on self-compassion, Kristen Neff, talks about it as being kind to ourselves – being gentle, supportive and understanding as you would to a friend who has made a mistake and needs to be comforted.
- It’s understanding we are human, a mistake was made and then rectifying and learning from it.
- It’s the ability to allow ourselves to feel our emotions as they are, without judgement or without suppressing them.
- In relation to others, it’s understanding our worth is not conditional on being liked, being right, being attractive or winning the next deal etc.
- The avoidance of responsibility.
- It’s not positive thinking in believing that you are perfect and always right (arrogance). In fact, the wisdom traditions regard arrogance as the opposite of self-compassion.
- Self-indulgence. If you have deviated from a goal to be healthy on a particular day and spend the day skipping exercise and overindulging in food and drink, self-compassion is acknowledging that you lapsed for that day, learning what you will do differently when your energy is low and you’re tempted to eat unhealthily and move on.
- Self-esteem, which is usually based on comparison with others or on recent goal attainment or success. In our society, we are often taught that we need to stand out or asked: “what’s different about you”? This encourages comparison. Self-compassion is acknowledging that you are good at some things and not others. It does not make you better or worse a person than those others.
How do I apply it?
- Start with a mindful reflective practice and consider a recent event that is playing on your mind. An incident where your inner critic is judging or blaming you.
- Reflect on the incident with non-judgemental awareness (loving-kindness). Take a mindful moment. See only the factual events and let go of any criticism or blame.
- Ask the questions – what can I learn from this?