Cultivating Self-Compassion (And Why It's Important)
The Importance of Self Compassion
Have you ever had a coach, parent, teacher, or boss in your life give you feedback on how to improve? Did they do so in a harsh way, focusing solely on your weaknesses, and why all the things that you have done wrong are contributing to your lack of performance? Using language like, you’re the worst player on the team, why can’t you do anything right, or you better not mess up in the future. How did this coach, teacher or boss make you feel? Did this feedback encourage you to do better, allow you to feel recharged and motivated enough to work on the areas that you can improve upon, and feel peace? Or did it make you feel beat down, increase your anxiety, spiralling in negative thoughts about who you are as a person, possibly even causing a lack of motivation? Chances are, it made you feel the latter.
This is why cultivating self-compassion is SO important, not only for our personal well-being, but also for our performance. It's helpful for the treatment of stress, in grief support, depression treatment, and relief from anxiety. So often, when asked, I hear from my clients that they wouldn’t beat down their younger selves with harsh words if they could go back in time, so why do we do this to our adult selves? For some reason, we seem to internalize criticism (whether it’s from our childhood, society etc.) and believe that it will motivate us to push forward. We associate self-compassion with laziness or weakness. However, the research shows that this is not the case. We are much more motivated and at peace when we are kind to ourselves.
In addition, high levels of self-criticism has been found to be linked to symptoms of various mental health concerns including, anxiety, depression, and social anxiety (McIntyre, Smith, Rimes, 2018).
How to Practice Self-Compassion
The first step is noticing when the inner critic is present. It can be something as simple as, I look terrible in that shirt or I’m so stupid for making that mistake. I invite you to first notice, and then provide yourself with a self-compassionate response. For example, everyone makes mistakes; I am not immune to this, or this just isn’t my favourite shirt and I can choose another one.
If you’re having trouble identifying a self-compassionate thought, ask yourself if a friend were to tell me they were speaking this way about themselves, what would I say to my friend? Say the same thing to yourself.
Honour the pain that must be present in association with the harsh self-criticism. Acknowledge the inner critic’s thought, place a hand on your heart, and say this is painful. Take some deep breaths and give yourself a self-compassionate response.
Practice journaling from a self-compassionate perspective. If you notice yourself journaling with the inner critic running rampant, take a step back, take some deep breaths, and write to yourself from the lens of someone who is kind to themselves. Read it back over and internalize all of the self-compassion.
Additionally, guided practices to help cultivate self-compassion can be helpful. Here is a link to some of them from Kristin Neff, a researcher of self-compassion, and Chris Germer with the Centre for Mindful Self Compassion:
If you’re finding yourself struggling with your inner critic, shame, or burnout or in need of grief counselling, anxiety treatment, or help with stress, please don’t hesitate to reach out to book a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation. I offer psychotherapy services to individuals and couples in Calgary and Alberta. I would be happy to assist you.
McIntyre, R., Smith, P., & Rimes, K.A. (2018). The role of self-criticism in common mental health