You’ve all heard about compassion – that laudable trait of feeling the sufferings of other people and wanting to help them – and the hows and whys of practicing and preaching it. But self-compassion is in a somewhat different category. It conveys a hint of negativity – if you are self-compassionate, you run the risk of thinking too highly of yourself. So you go the opposite direction and think you’re not good enough or smart enough or pretty/handsome enough.
If you are like many people and view self-compassion in an unfavorable light, you’ll be surprised to know that many psychologists recommend cultivating it and are teaching people to be as compassionate towards themselves as they are to others. Here are the things about this quality that are making quite a few individuals uncomfortable.
Misconceptions about Self-Compassion
1. Self-compassionate people are narcissists.
Narcissists are extremely selfish persons who have an inflated sense of self-importance. They know everything, are always right, and do not listen to others’ opinions. They think everything is about them, and they are see themselves as perfect individuals, incapable of making mistakes. Narcissists are products of being consistently praised by adults in their well-meaning efforts to boost self-esteem. Kids end up feeling superior to others and grow up to be narcissistic, to the extent of putting other people down to boost their self-image.
Self-compassionate people do not judge themselves. They acknowledge their shortcomings as human beings but accept them with kindness and understanding. Instead of castigating themselves over a failure or a mistake, they are motivated to improve and strive to be better.
2. Self-compassion encourages self-pity.
Individuals who drown in self-pity exaggerate their problems and don’t see that many other people are worse off than they are. They constantly talk about their losses, pains, and disappointments, and foresee a gloomy future. Self-pitying people have no sympathy for others’ problems because their feelings are centered on their own beings. Thus, they fail to adopt an objective and balanced perspective of the circumstances.
On the other hand, self-compassionate people also experience failures and hurts, but don’t spend much time feeling sorry for themselves. They avoid self-criticism and can view the experience in its own space, not defining them as inferior to others. They feel the sadness and pain but know that others have gone through the same or more difficult situations and they are not unique.
3. Self-compassion inhibits the motivation to improve one’s self.
A mistaken notion about having self-compassion is that it discourages individuals from trying to improve themselves or find ways to do better. The absence of self-criticism in self-compassion can be erroneously perceived as permission to remain passive and succumb to defeat. But self-compassion goes beyond simply surrendering. Self-compassionate persons admit to the failure but are sympathetic to themselves and find ways to overcome their mistakes and find solutions.
4. Self-compassion must be earned.
Self-compassion is for everyone, by virtue of their being human. It’s not only for the victims of abuse or violence, or for people who have led a moral life. Only by being compassionate towards their own selves can individuals be genuinely compassionate to others.
Ways to Develop Self-Compassion
Take care of your physical body.
Eat healthy, do regular exercise, get enough rest. Pamper your body occasionally with a massage or a visit to a salon. When you feel good about yourself, you can develop self-compassion more easily.
Accept your imperfection.
If you are feeling down or hurt because of a failed project or goal, don’t punish yourself needlessly. Accept that you are not perfect and that no one is. At the same time, learn from your mistakes to avoid a repetition of the same.
Mindfulness and meditation help develop self-compassion by becoming aware of one’s emotions. If self-criticism sets in, mindfulness helps individuals to be kinder to themselves. It also helps take a nonjudgmental approach so that feelings are not overly suppressed or dramatically expressed. The focus on the present makes an effective environment for self-compassion.