27. February 2022
Love yourself – Self-compassion
Self-compassion instead of self-criticism
Do you know this feeling? You make a mistake during a project, a friendship or relationship breaks up, or something doesn’t work out the way you imagined. We become our own enemy. We criticise ourselves for supposedly not having done enough or not having learned enough. Our head circles around thoughts like: “Why am I only getting upset about this again? What will the people around me think of me? Why don’t I succeed in this and that and why does person X succeed seemingly flawlessly?”
Do these statements resonate with you? Surveys show that the vast majority are more compassionate with other people than with themselves. Do you also tend to criticise yourself a lot and blame yourself for not meeting your own standards? A little self-compassion could make your life much more pleasant.
What is Mindful Self-Compassion?
Above all, self-compassion is an attitude – supporting yourself and not seeing yourself as the worst enemy: Mindful Self-Compassion is a training programme developed by an American psychology professor and a clinical psychologist. Basically, it means nothing more than inward compassion and an inwardly benevolent, loving attitude; adopting a similar attitude toward yourself as you would with a good friend, sympathising with them when they are unwell, offering support and encouragement. Mindul-Self-Compassion makes us more resilient, stress-resistant and content.
In theory, being kind to oneself may seem simple and natural. Yet for many, it is often challenging and we find ourselves being more compassionate and understanding with other people than with ourselves at certain moments. But why is that?
Many factors play into this. For example, our society is strongly characterised by performance, competition and rivalry. Often the foundation for this comes up during childhood. There are hardly any cooperative games, for example, because most of them are about winning or losing against the other. From an early age, we learn to constantly have to prove ourselves and improve. Hence, the general feeling of not being good enough can become internalised. For many, this manifests itself in a self-critical attitude.
Why is self-compassion so important?
Self-care not only creates safety and space; it also allows us to calm down and helps us find ourselves, to develop and work with solutions. The “feel-good” hormone oxytocin plays a pivotal role in this, because it ensures that anxiety, fear and worrying thoughts decrease. The hormone is more abundant when we are relaxed and loving and experience care and trust. This also occurs when we foster self-care.
Increased self-criticism, on the other hand, is experienced as a threat. It activates our stress centre in the brain and can cause our blood pressure to rise and adrenaline and cortisol to be released. Our body is prepared for fight or flight – in short, stress is abound. Therefore, when we are kind to ourselves – and others – areas of the brain are activated that trigger positive emotions and compassion. We gain confidence and self-esteem and improve at pursuing our goals.
Can self-compassion be learned?
Many studies have shown that self-compassion strongly promotes emotional well-being. It increases positive psychological factors such as contentment, feelings of happiness, willingness to compromise, compassion for others, and decreases negative aspects such as stress, anxiety, depressive moods or jealousy. Self-compassion can be learned.
To do this, one should first consider the three key elements of self-compassion:
Kindness to oneself = Self-kindness.
Instead of judging ourselves, we try to be warm and understanding with ourselves – instead of being harsh toward ourselves and full of criticism.
When something “bad” happens to us or we fail, are cheated on or lied to, or experience another kind of pain, we often think we are the only person to whom this happens. We tend to isolate (and cower) ourselves as a consequence thereof. Human connectedness shows us that ups and downs really are part of every life. Moreover, that this doesn’t happen solely because of our mistakes, but may well be a complex web of different causes.
Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment and not judging it. This means that we can objectively recognise whether we are self-critical or try to isolate ourselves, for example. In so doing, we can also recognise a way out. To the question: What do I really need now? Mindfulness gives us the answer.
Furthermore, the US-American researcher Kristin Neff recommends various exercises that can strengthen self-compassion:
– Don’t judge or value yourself constantly
– Try to accept yourself as you are, including your strengths, your weaknesses and your limitations.
– Realise that you are more than the qualities you judge yourself for.
– Change your perspective and look at yourself through the eyes of a wise, compassionate friend who also knows your supposed weaknesses and treats you with love and kindness nevertheless.
– Find the cause for your discomfort. Get to know yourself, try to understand yourself and your behaviour at certain moments and discover what you really need at that moment. These four questions can help you: What am I observing? What am I feeling? What do I need at this moment? What request do I have for myself or for someone else?
Of course, this cannot be implemented overnight. Don’t be too hard on yourself here either. Self-compassion should be consciously practised again and again throughout everyday life. Certain aids to train to switch off the alarm system and switch on the care system can also be supportive here. For example, you could place a hand on your heart during a loving encouragement and consciously breathe calmly and deeply.