In your school or work, it’s easy to criticize yourself. When you judge yourself or criticize your own work, would you say the things you say to yourself to a friend? For many people, their own self-chastising would be far too harsh for a friend or even an enemy. Why do so many people struggle to be kinder to themselves?
Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin, is the premiere scholar in the study of self-compassion. She researches and speaks on the subject.
According to Neff’s work, Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness, “Compassion involves sensitivity to the experience of suffering, coupled with a deep desire to alleviate that suffering.”
When someone feels compassion for another person’s pain, they want to help that person in any way that they can. Being self-compassionate means that you treat yourself as you would treat a friend.
“Self-compassion is simply compassion directed inward, relating to ourselves as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering,” Neff wrote.
Self-compassion is characterized by three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
The Three Components
Self-kindness involves using gentle, comforting words to yourself when you face a failure. Recognize that you are doing your personal best, even when you fail. Failing is a huge part of the human experience, which involves the next component: common humanity.
“The sense of common humanity central to self-compassion involves recognizing that everyone fails, makes mistakes and gets it wrong sometimes,” Neff wrote.
Once you recognize that everyone else faces challenges and failures too, the feeling of failure becomes much less isolating. Even the people who appear to have the “perfect life,” maybe a “perfect” romantic partner, car, career, grades or house, struggle with failure and loss in their lives.
Approaching your negative thoughts with a mindful attitude is the final component of self-compassion. Recognizing when you are in pain may be difficult if you frequently succumb to a self-chiding or even avoidant mentality. Avoiding your problems or being overcome by them will not make them go away. Being mindful means that you acknowledge your failures or negative thoughts and embrace them for what they are: just thoughts. Your failures alone do not define you.
Self-Compassion in Your Life
According to Good Therapy, “A high level of self-criticism that prevents individuals from taking risks, asserting opinions or believing in their own abilities may be unhelpful or detrimental to well-being.” High self-criticism may be an indicator of anxiety or depression, but self-compassion has helped many people alleviate some of their self-critical ways and gain greater well-being overall.
One common misconception held about self-compassion is that it will make you less motivated. In an intense academic or professional environment, it is essential to stay motivated to succeed; however, being kinder to yourself will not damage your motivation. Neff explains that self-compassionate people are less afraid of failure because they are understanding of failure, so they tend to take on more challenging projects, and they have a stronger desire to learn new skills.
Dan Harris, a retired ABC News journalist, wrote his book “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works” about his personal journey with embracing mindfulness and his personal failures without losing his motivation in a hectic work environment like professional broadcast journalism.
In college, students are constantly comparing themselves to their peers. The competitive nature of classes, internships and job searches make it nearly impossible to ignore the people around you. If you find yourself frequently discouraged by social comparison, learning more about self-compassion and practicing it may be a great way to embrace your own personal journey. At the end of the day, failures and challenges make you human, and the person next to you in class or on the bus could be facing the same challenge. Be your own best friend by practicing self-compassion.
Check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s official website: “Self-Compassion“