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Self-compassion: let go of being hard on yourself

Do you find it easier to be kinder to others than you are to yourself? Most weeks as I coach leaders and team members, something that I hear time and time again is how hard they are on themselves, how guilty they feel if they make mistakes, how judgmental they are of themselves when relationships break down at work. Most of the people I encounter in these scenarios want to improve and grow in effectiveness, resilience and capacity. Yet when I broach the subject of self-compassion  (or in lay persons’ terms “being kind to yourself”) as a way forward, they often look confused at best, or worse even more guilty. This leads me to ponder the question, “Why is it easier to extend a gesture of kindness to others than it can be to be kinder and more gentler with ourselves?”

One answer to this question is because compassion and by extension, self-compassion has an image problem. Too often we hear (and we may have even thought this or said it ourselves), “Compassion is weakness, Compassion is for the religious, Compassion is soft and fluffy”. These thoughts and words denigrate the concept and enactment of compassion. We might falsely align a compassionate act towards ourselves as one where we give up on our goals, or let ourselves off the hook. Too often we equate self-compassion with a lack of self-responsibility.

Kristen Neff a world leader on self-compassion, sees it differently. She describes three core components of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness: being gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental
  • Recognition of our common humanity: feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our distress or suffering
  • Mindfulness: holding our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it

Practicing self-compassion means for me that when I make mistakes, don’t know the answer or fail to live up to my own or other’s expectations in some way, I am able to face the reality of the situation with kindness towards myself. Neff’s research shows that we must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.

So what are the benefits?
Those that practice self-compassion experience less painful emotions when distressing events occur because they do not also focus on intense feelings of self-criticism and self-punishment. Neff concluded that because they have greater emotional and psychological resources at their disposal, self-compassionate people are able to more easily extend compassion towards others, react to negative feedback with more acceptance and as a consequence take greater responsibility for their actions. Unlike self-esteem, the good feelings of self-compassion do not depend on being special and above average, or on meeting ideal goals. Instead, Neff says, “they come from caring about ourselves—fragile and imperfect as we are”. Rather than pitting ourselves against other people in an endless comparison game, we embrace what we share with others and feel more connected and whole in the process. And the good feelings of self-compassion don’t go away when we mess up or things go wrong. In fact, self-compassion steps in precisely where self-esteem lets us down—whenever we fail or feel inadequate.

Contact us today to find out more about how 1:1 coaching can support you to let go of self-criticism and access your untapped potential.

For more information on Neff’s research on self-compassion check out this blog