When self-compassion feels ‘lazy’ or ‘impractical’
When scrolling on social media, you’ve probably read a plethora of ‘be kind to yourself’ quotes, maybe engaging fleetingly with this idea.
But it’s possible that it’s never penetrated your psyche to evoke deep change being shown in your thoughts and actions.
Perhaps the ‘be kind to yourself’ notion sounds quite lovely, but frankly impractical. You live in a busy world, with jobs to do, people to deal with and a relentless schedule. This kindness seems to equate with laziness, and you imagine your world unravelling if you practised it.
Self-compassion is not about idleness or opting out, although it can mean a beneficial slowing down to take care of yourself through rest, leisure activities and hobbies.
Self-compassion is about:
- The way you talk to yourself with kindness and encouragement, rather than a raging inner critic.
- The way you hold boundaries and set healthy limits with others, rather than saying ‘yes’ to everything and risking burnout.
- The way you ground your self-worth, by living in line with your priorities and values, rather than being pulled by the endless demands of the world.
Developing self-compassion can absolutely benefit your mental health, as research shows that people who demonstrate this, have improved emotional resilience, relationships, body image and mood.
And self-compassion makes you feel good physiologically and emotionally. It reduces shame, encourages openness, and brings a surge of oxytocin - that feel-good contentment you get from stroking a pet or holding a baby.
If self-compassion feels like an alien concept right now, have faith that human beings have an innate ability to be compassionate. I’m sure that you will often go out of our way to help others and show kindness and thoughtfulness. Self-compassion is learning to become more proficient at doing this for yourself.
How to develop self-compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff * explains three ways to develop self-compassion:
You are likely exemplary at offering kindness and support to a good friend or a beloved pet. You need to learn to comfort and soothe yourself in the same way, with your words, actions and thoughts.
Thoughts/words: ‘It’s been a tough day and I feel tired and exhausted. I’m going to show myself some kindness this evening’.
Kind actions: proactively doing an activity that is soothing and comforting.
- having a bubble bath
- phoning up a good friend and venting
- reading a favourite book or watching a film
- gentle exercise
- listening to music
You can think about activating the five senses when you practice self-care: these being sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
2. Acknowledge our shared humanity
This means recognising that we are all flawed human beings. No-one has perfected the art of living and people struggle every day. In your moments of failure and imperfection, you are not alone. Many people are going through similar difficulties at this very moment. This can offer comfort and a connection to humankind.
3. Becoming mindfully aware
This means being able to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, without judging or avoiding them or bottling them up. You might need to create some stillness and time to reflect to do this, so becoming an observer of your mind, rather than reacting in the moment.
For example, if you lose control of your eating, with an absence of mindful awareness, you might label yourself as a greedy person, with no self-control. With awareness, you can take a step back and pause, so reflecting on what has happened. You can be curious and questioning and offer yourself insight and understanding.
To help with mindful awareness, allow yourself to get support and to be open with trusted others. As when you hold everything inside, you can feel isolated and alone, assuming that everyone else is coping. Through practising openness, you realise that we are all in the same boat, muddling imperfectly along. It encourages mutual support, empathy and builds trust.
Learning to be self-compassionate takes patience and practice but is worth the emotional investment. Becoming a good friend to yourself is one of the most effective ways to improve and sustain positive mental health. Your self-compassionate ally can be there 24/7 through whatever life throws at you.
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