I confess that when I started hearing the concept of self-care more and more lately, I mentally put it in the categories of “selfishness” and “self-indulgence.” It wasn’t really an active, conscious thought, more of an immediate dismissal. But as I’ve taken the time lately to really ponder the the idea, I’ve grown to realize that self-care is something that improves my life and makes me a nicer person to be around, thus being not really selfish at all.
I happened to read the February issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine a few days ago, and came across the article Show Yourself Some Love: The Surprising Power of Self-Compassion. Most of us know that criticizing ourselves has a negative impact on who we are and how we live, but having compassion on ourselves can actually improve our lives.
I think we realize how much we can be positively affected by kind words or encouragement from another person, but applying kindness to ourselves can trigger those same feelings of motivation, peace, and joy. Furthermore, we are less likely to fall into bitterness or depression because of the powerful positive effect on our mental health.
I thought it was also interesting that self-esteem didn’t have the same life-improving effect. Thinking better about ourselves is not as beneficial as treating ourselves better.
Kristin Neff, who has researched the concept of self-compassion extensively, says, “Compassion engages our capacity for love, wisdom, courage, and generosity.” When we treat ourselves kindly, that increases our ability to demonstrate that same kindness to others.
What IS self-compassion?
Think about how you feel when you experience compassion for another person. You feel empathy, a connection with the pain they’re feeling, and motivation to reach out and alleviate their suffering in the best way you can. You offer kindness and understanding rather than harsh words or a “too bad for you” attitude. It’s something deeper than pity.
In the same way, having compassion on yourself involves offering comfort and understanding to YOU.
Don’t use self-criticism and internalize failure as if that defines you are. Tell yourself the things you would tell a friend or a child when difficulties arise. “You can do this. What are ways that I can care for myself right now?”
Neff offers three things that self-compassion is NOT: self-pity, self-indulgence, and self-esteem.
Interestingly, studies have shown that having compassion on ourselves also makes us more resilient, less ready to give up, less stressed and even physically healthier. It doesn’t work by magic, though. You have to make a choice to treat yourself compassionately before it can become a habit.
One way I’ve learned to have compassion on myself is in the area of food. I try to eat only real, minimally-processed foods, but sometimes I will eat something that just isn’t. When that happens, I don’t tell myself, “Well, you blew it. Just eat whatever you want, you clearly can’t do this.” Instead, I basically pep-talk myself with “Don’t worry about it. It’s just one meal, you’ve been doing great so far.” I find that I’m reaching my goals much more quickly this way, when I forgive myself for messing up and just move on.
Life is too short for anger and bitterness. Even to yourself.
Do you have any examples where self-compassion has had a positive impact on your life? I’d love to hear them as I explore the idea more.