The Power of Self-Compassion

You don’t have to be your biggest critic…

 

When you make a mistake, have a rough day or have an emotional meltdown…. what do you do?

If you’re anything like me, you might ruminate on the things that have happened, and wish you’d done a whole bunch of things differently!

It can leave you feeling self-critical and down.

I know the feeling!!

But what if you could be kinder to yourself, more compassionate. Just as you would be for a close friend or loved one?

As it happens there’s a WHOLE research field dedicated to self-compassion. And it’s fascinating!

In this mini blog I’ll reveal how self-criticism has affected me personally when I was teetering on the edge of post-natal depression.

I’ll also (very briefly) summarise what the research has to say about self-compassion, based on the fantastic review by Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the world of self-compassion (Neff, 2023).

 

My personal story…

The most recent time that self-criticism (dare I say self-hate) has affected me was about 8 months ago. I was super exhausted and had almost no time to spend on my own health, passions and business, because I’m a mum to a little (lovely) human.

(This is the perfect storm that often leads to postnatal depression for many, many mums and some dads).

Due to my general state of frustration and tiredness I was very quick to snap at my husband, and would often start and perpetuate arguments. I could see that the way I was acting was reactive, unkind and unfair, and I started hating myself for it.

 

Negative spiral

This became a negative spiral, that led to more frustration and more self-criticism and more snappy arguments, dragging me lower and lower.

So….. why am I revealing the less-than-glamorous bit about my life?

Well, practicing more self-compassion could have REALLY helped me here.

I could have had self-compassion for my low-mood and snappy reactions to my poor husband. I WAS going through a super challenging time after all!

I now understand that self-compassion would have stopped the negative cycle of self-hatred that was pulling me down.

Does this sounds like anything you’ve experienced?

 

What is self-compassion?

Kristin Neff is a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion psychology. This is how she defines self-compassion:

“Self-compassion is a way of relating to the ever-changing experience of who we are with kindness and acceptance, especially when we fail or feel inadequate.

Self-compassion does not require feeling better than anyone else, it simply requires acknowledging the shared and imperfect human condition.” (Neff, 2023, p. 201)

I love her words, as she gives us permission to be imperfect and to care for ourselves unconditionally anyway!

 

Three magic ingredients…

Kristin Neff has conceptualised three important components of self-compassion:

  1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgement. Taking a benevolent and supportive attitude to our shortcomings, rather than condemning ourselves coldly. Acknowledging our shortcomings while caring for ourselves regardless.
  2. Appreciating a common humanity. Recognising that life challenges are part of being human, an experience we all share.
  3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. Being willing to turn toward, feel and acknowledge our own pain. Yet, not to over-identify with it. Observe it as a temporary state that will pass, rather than something we “are”.

(All of these, especially 1. and 3. are remarkably similar to a mindful yoga practice!! …more on this later.)

 

Why be self-compassionate?

“What is the point of all this?” You may ask…

Well, there are over 4,000 scientific journal articles documenting the positive effects of self-compassion on wellbeing! (Neff, 2023)

I want to keep this blog brief, so I’ll just make a short (and very incomplete list) for you. Self-compassion has been linked (scientifically) with…

Reduced:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Suicidal ideation and self-harm
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Body image concerns
  • Shame

And increased:

  • Happiness
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Hope
  • Gratitude
  • Curiosity
  • Vitality

These outcomes were found in a large range of studies using cross-sectional, longitudinal (surveys across time) and experimental methods. If you want to dive into this research yourself have a look at Kristin Neff’s excellent review here (Neff, 2023).

It’s an amazing list of mental health benefits from something that is essentially quite a simple mindset shift!

 

But isn’t it narcissistic?

Perhaps you’re thinking that being kinder to yourself and ‘loving yourself’ unconditionally might sound like a soft option or somewhat narcissistic. But that is a common misconception!

To change your mind, it helps to know the difference between self-compassion and having high self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of your self-worth based on how you perform in daily life and how you compare with others. High self-esteem, while being good for mental health, HAS been linked with narcissism (Crocker and Park, 2004).

Whereas self-COMPASSION does not rely on judgments or evaluations of your performance. Instead, self-compassion is a way of caring for, and accepting, ourselves especially when we fail or feel inadequate.

Self-compassion does not require feeling better than anyone else, it simply requires acknowledging the shared and imperfect human condition.

 

What’s it got to do with yoga?

Apart from stretching, yoga actually works on changing how someone relates to their own body and mind.

Have you ever attended a yoga class that made a real psychological difference? (You felt happier, lighter or more hopeful afterwards?) The teacher was probably using mindfulness theming…

In the most satisfying yoga classes, a teacher invites the student work on their mindset / mind-body-connection throughout the breath and movements.

Some common themes I always find running through my classes are:

  • To observe everything going on in the body and mind, without judgement.
  • To be kind to, and grateful for the body.
  • To notice any uncomfortable sensations and thoughts, and realise that they are just that, sensations and thoughts. That they do not define your inner self.
  • Not to focus on ‘achieving’ a pose, but to accept where you are.

 

Yoga is self-compassion

After reading Kristin Neff’s three components of self-compassion, I realised that a mindful yoga practice has A LOT in common with them!

Especially with point (1) Self-kindness vs. self-Judgement, and point (3) Mindfulness vs. over-identification.

So, practicing yoga in a mindful way, while fostering a non-judgemental and accepting attitude towards the body and mind, is an act of self-compassion.

I make that yet another string to yoga’s bow!

Homework

I invite you to have a look at my latest on-demand yoga class called:

Flexibility Flow

In this class I use the theme of self-compassion as I guide you through poses to stretch the hamstrings, shoulders and hips.

It’s just 30 minutes!

 

(If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings.)

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Crocker J, Park LE. 2004. The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychol. Bull. 130:392–414

Neff, K.D., 2023. Self-compassion: Theory, method, research, and intervention. Annual review of psychology, 74, pp.193-218.

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Love, Jolanthe x