The value of self-compassion “when the going gets tough”

Have you ever count how many times you went against yourself during difficult times? How many times you “bombarded” your mind with negative thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right”, “It was all my fault and I have to pay”, “I am useless”, “I deserve what I am going through”.

And how many times you showed compassion, treated with kindness and said comforting words to your loved ones or even a stranger when they were going through something similar.

It seems that instead of exploring ways to alleviate the negative feelings and find effective ways to cope with a difficult period, we tend to “punish” ourselves.

While the interesting part is that when our friends and family struggle with hassles we leave the judgments aside and we do our best to help them.

So there is an interesting question here. Why do we experience a great difficulty to show compassion to ourselves but we do the opposite for other people?

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is defined as the tendency to be kind with ourselves when we suffer. According to Kristin Neff, the three elements of compassion includes self-kindness, acknowledging the human nature and mindfulness.

Self-kindness refers to being kind to ourselves instead of flagellating them and it doesn’t have to do with self-pity. Life is full of frustrations. Intimate relationships end, friendships end, people lose their job, people make bad investments. It is inevitable. We will put the blame on ourselves, we will put the blame on others. Instead of holding the belief that life will always be how we want it to be, we need to explore ways to cope adequately with suffering.

The truth is… We will make mistakes, we will fail, we are not perfect and we cannot always do things right. And that’s ok. Because all of the above, are parts of the human nature. So we are not alone to this and it will be beneficial for us to acknowledge that other human, experience frustration too and it’s not something that happens only to us.

Finally, mindfulness refers to the ability to observe our negative thoughts and feelings without judging and/or suppressing them. We cannot be gentle to ourselves and at the same time ignore the suffering.

It seems that people who grew up with caregivers who were judgemental and hold the erroneous belief that “people don’t make mistakes” are more likely to develop a difficulty to experience self-compassion as they feel that they are not allowed to make mistakes.

How do I practice self-compassion?

First, we need to accept that we suffer. We allow ourselves to accept that we are going through a difficult period. Although some people find that pain increases when they start to practice compassion, it seems that this is a part of the process of healing.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When I judge myself, is this a pattern that reminds me the way caregivers were dealing with mistakes? And if this is the case, can I acknowledge that this is something that I learned, therefore I can teach myself other ways more adoptive in order to deal with frustration and suffering?
  • How do I evaluate my efforts, my judgment and my skills in this specific situation?
  • What I learned from this suffering that I can use if something similar occurs in the future? Be specific.
  • How would I treat another person who is going through the same situation? Would I be judgmental? Would I show understanding and compassion?

It is very important for our wellbeing to acknowledge that making mistakes is not a myth but the reality for the human nature. By regretting and judging ourselves we don’t have any benefits; instead we adopt a maladaptive way to cope with the situation and as a result the negative feelings often exacerbate. We might not have the opportunity to go back and “fix” mistakes but there is a purpose of why we make “mistakes”: To gain experience and knowledge that we couldn’t have them differently. A mistake can be a learning experience.

And remember: Sometimes all we need is just a pat on the back.