“I am beautiful/smart/talented, no matter what anyone says,” you tell yourself over and over again.
You’ve heard people tell you that you need to “love yourself” and “show yourself some compassion”, and this seems to be the way to do it.
But it’s not.
At least, not necessarily.
You see, the most compassionate thing you could tell yourself is “I am worthy and deserving of love whether someone thinks I’m beautiful/smart/talented or not”. Or, put slightly differently, “my value as a person is not contingent on beauty/intelligence/talent”.
These kinds of statements, though they may sound slightly similar to the very first one, differ in a very important way: they’re putting your worthiness and your value first, incenting you to love yourself unconditionally.
This is self-compassion.
Studies have shown self-compassion to be linked with a whole bunch of positive life outcomes, like:
greater life satisfaction
As well as, to some extent:
less fear of failure
Hmm...seems like an important construct that can affect our lives positively in a host of ways 🤔
Let’s dig deeper.
Self-compassion is not self-pity.
Self-pity puts you in a state where you’re very focused on yourself and your own suffering, and, as we’ll see, an important element of self-compassion involves acknowledging the suffering of those around you.
Self-compassion is not self-centredness.
Self-centredness necessitates comparing yourself to others, and seeing yourself as somehow better off. This again goes against the aspect of self-compassion that includes other people.
Self-compassion is not self-esteem.
Self-esteem arises from a need to accomplish goals and a fear of failure, where your self-worth is in a way contingent with your success. Self-compassion comes instead from a need for self-mastery, motivated intrinsically (see our previous piece relating to intrinsic motivation).
So, what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion breaks down into three main components:
Self-kindness, rather than self-judgment,
Understanding your faults in the context of the rest of the world around you, rather than as an isolating thing that happens to only you, and
Being mindful of your thoughts, rather than avoiding or ruminating on them.
By self-kindness, we mean being patient with yourself. Showing yourself some empathy, forgiveness, and warmth, and extending that kindness to all parts of yourself and understanding that your worth exists unconditionally.
By using the context of the world around you, we mean to share a common humanity. To recognize that your struggles do not occur in isolation, that you are not alone, and that there’s a whole world out there experiencing very similar things to you. Sometimes it may feel like we are alone and no one could possibly understand us, but a common humanity brings in other people into awareness to realize that hey, maybe we’re not so alone after all. It’s to recognize that we are only human.
By mindfulness, we don’t just mean “being present in the here and now,” but rather an honest and nonjudgmental reflection of yourself. Notice the language: reflection. One of the most important concepts I was taught in studying mindfulness is that it’s about being reflective, not reflexive. It’s about learning to take a step back, create space between you and the situation, and reflect on it rather than react to it.
These three components all feed into each other.
For instance, being more kind towards yourself puts you in a better position to better understand how your downfalls are part of the human condition and how to be mindful about it. The same is true of a common humanity affording greater self-kindness and mindfulness, and mindfulness making you better at everything (jk jk, not really everything. Or am I kidding? Stay tuned for future posts on mindfulness).
The great thing about a breakdown like this is that it gives us a solid base on which to understand how we can begin to be more compassionate towards ourselves, outside of simply repeating the mantra, “I am beautiful/smart/talented, no matter what anyone says.”
It seems, then, that self-compassion is a skill that can have a big impact on our lives (recall all the ways in which it’s related to positive life outcomes), and is something that we can actively work on!!! Talk about a good way to #treatyoself.
Can I have some of that?
So, what can you do to show yourself some compassion? Well, there’s a few ways that people have studied this.
First, it seems that some techniques used in therapy are a great way to foster self-compassion (as if you needed another great reason to go to therapy!).
Second, you can do mindfulness training. This makes sense considering that mindfulness is one of the three interrelated facets of self-compassion, and working on that can make self-kindness and a common humanity easier to bring about, giving you greater self-compassion overall. (As an aside, you should try Headspace if you’re thinking of starting your mindfulness meditation journey. Not because I tell you to, but because it’s genuinely awesome.)
Finally, some studies have managed to induce self-compassion by “activating” all three of its components. They ask people to:
Think about how they would treat a friend in a particular situation (which, by activating kindness towards others, helps activates kindness towards ourselves)
Think about how other people have experienced similar things (activating a common humanity)
Objectively list the emotions that they’re feeling (activating mindfulness, allowing them to separate themselves a bit from their emotions).
This has been effective in increasing self-compassion, and gives you a structured way to begin showing yourself some love the next time you’re in a hairy situation: try to think of the self-compassion trifecta.
Being compassionate toward yourself can have a tremendous impact on your life. It’s definitely not something that is easy, as there are almost certainly things that we may not like about ourselves. But showing ourselves kindness and forgiveness, and understanding that we’re not alone in feeling this way, is a worthwhile endeavour.
Perhaps telling ourselves “I am worthy of love whether someone thinks I’m beautiful/smart/talented or not,” is a good first step.