How to improve your self-compassion


Do you afford yourself the same compassion that you offer to others? muse Body Image Expert, Sarah McMahon, explores the notion of self-compassion and how to improve your self-esteem.

My experience with hundreds of clients is that they are often very good at exhibiting compassion for other people, but rarely apply the same courtesy to themselves. While this is a tendency well documented in clinical populations, one does not need to suffer from depression, anxiety or an eating disorder to struggle with this skill. Many of us experience difficulty in being self-compassionate, often because we feel that self-deprecation is more helpful to us. Yet self-compassion is actually highly correlated with success and allows for a balanced acknowledgement of circumstances, allowing us to learn and improve from those experiences.

Self-compassion is a relatively new construct in the world of psychology, and perhaps a similar and more familiar construct to most of us is self-esteem. At face value, self-esteem is seen to be highly desirable and protective. The problem is that establishing and maintaining self-esteem is contingent on success. This means we are likely to have increased self-esteem when things are going well for us, but not when they are not – the very time we actually need it.

Self-compassion is a relatively new construct in the world of psychology, and perhaps a similar and more familiar construct to most of us is self-esteem

Dr Kristen Neff’s work on this subject relies on the definition of self-compassion as essentially demonstrating the same compassion you have for others to yourself. It involves acknowledging suffering when it is there and feeling moved in your heart sufficiently to respond to that pain and suffering. There are three components to self-compassion: Self-kindness (being warm and encouraging, rather than self-flagellating); common humanity (seeing suffering as part of the common human experience, rather than something you are alone in experiencing) and mindfulness (acknowledging and paying attention to the feelings we have in a balanced, here-and-now way). Contrary to common perception, self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgenc

If you engage in punitive self-talk when you notice a flaw or make a mistake or feel isolated and alone in your imperfection, here are three steps to improve your self-compassion:

1. Think about aspects of your life in which you experience shame or sadness. Write a letter to yourself as if you were your best friend or big brother/sister. Use this as an opportunity to compassionately work through those painful experiences.

2. Keep a self-compassion journal for a week or so. Each day, recall and record the painful experiences that have taken place. At the end of each day, work through these feelings using each of the three elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. How can they be re-framed with each new paradigm?

3. Think about an area in which you continue to exhibit self-hatred through self-flagellation (e.g. beating yourself up because you are disorganised or not studying hard enough). Obviously you would not treat a friend who was experiencing the same problem in that way. Identify three things you would say to a friend who was experiencing the same problem, to encourage behaviour change. When you find yourself engaging that familiar pattern of self-hatred, remind yourself that that approach hasn’t helped before and work on exchanging this for the approach you would take with someone you love.

With diligent practice, retraining your critical voice to speak with loving kindness can profoundly impact your relationship with yourself and your life.

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