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Self-Compassion: Key to Greater Happiness and More Positive Relationships

November 15, 2021 | by Dr. Leslie M. Gutman

Self-compassionate people are also better equipped to cope with stressful life events and boost their resilience in the face of challenges.

Debbie is having a typical weekday morning. Children late to school (with one leaving their lunch in the car). Her toddler having a melt-down upon drop off to play group. A work meeting on Zoom with a jungle background and mouse ears. House an absolute wreck. And the final straw – the washing machine refusing to drain with a load stuck inside.

How does Debbie respond? Does she berate herself for not waking up earlier, for allowing her children to use her laptop, and forgetting to clean the children’s pockets before the wash? Or is Debbie self-compassionate, offering kindness to herself and accepting that life is full of mishaps?

There is an abundance of research (more than 3000 studies) showing that individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have more positive relationships with others, greater happiness, more life satisfaction, better physical health, and less anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people are also better equipped to cope with stressful life events and boost their resilience in the face of challenges.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion involves three key components.1

  1. Self-kindness instead of self-judgment. When we experience challenges, self-compassion means we are understanding and caring. We don’t berate and criticize ourselves in the face of failure or pain. Self-compassionate people offer themselves kindness, just as they would for a close friend.

  2. Humanity instead of isolation. Self-compassion involves viewing our failures in the context of the larger human experience. Sometimes we irrationally think it's "only me" that is having a difficult time. But we are not alone in our struggles. Life is messy and we are prone to making mistakes. This is a basic fact of life that we share with every other person in this world.

  3. Mindfulness instead of over-identification with emotions. Self-compassionate people are mindful of their emotions but not overly immersed and consumed with them. Being mindful is an active and balanced approach where we acknowledge our own feelings of pain and hurt but, at the same time, view them according to a larger perspective. It involves having a non-judgmental stance toward our emotions and understanding that they do not constitute who we are as a person.

What Self-Compassion Is Not?

  1. Self-compassion is not self-worth. Self-esteem is about your own feelings of self-worth, liking yourself because of your positive qualities and focusing on your noteworthy accomplishments. This means that our self-esteem is often based on our successes and self-evaluations in comparison to others. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is not dependent on our own traits (such as beauty or monetary success) or based on our external circumstances. Rather, it is an acceptance of ourselves simply because of our intrinsic worth as a human being.

  2. Self-compassion is not self-pity. Self-compassion is not about feeling sorry for yourself. It's not a “woe is me” attitude where people become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. When we are self-compassionate, we recognize that we all suffer and this fosters a connected mindset that is inclusive of others. It’s an acceptance that the purpose of your life is not about perfection. It’s about learning, growing, and connecting with others. It's about moving forward with what is healthy and positive.

  3. Self-compassion is not self-indulgence. You might think you can be too self-compassionate, becoming self-indulgent, unmotivated, or even lazy. However, research suggests that this is not the case. In fact, more self-compassionate people tend to have even greater personal initiative to make necessary and positive life changes because they don’t berate themselves when they make mistakes or struggle in the face of outright failure. When you are self-compassionate, you accept failure as part of a learning process, reflect on what you can do differently next time, adjust your tactics, and then try again.

How can we build up our self-compassion?

Self-compassion is a quality that we can encourage on a daily basis. Here are a few exercises that I outline in my book, Resilience: A Jewish Guide to Facing Adversity, Fostering Strength, and Living Your Best Life, that can boost your self-compassion.

  • Consider yourself as you would a good friend. If your friend were experiencing a similar situation, what would you say? What words of comfort would you provide? Say these words aloud to yourself. You may even choose to write them down.

  • Keep a (self-compassionate) journal. Write down the day’s events and focus on being non-judgmental and non-critical of yourself. Consider how your actions connect you to others and how you can learn from today for a better tomorrow.

  • Change your self-talk, both privately and in front of others. Use positive words in reference to yourself and do not criticize or put yourself down. When you make a mistake, focus on what you learned and would do differently next time.

  1. Neff, K. A.

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