Self-Compassion for Mental Health: Can it make you happier?
Published Aug 28, 2023 • By Somya Pokharna
In a world often consumed by self-criticism and comparison, self-compassion emerges as a powerful antidote. It involves responding to failures and feelings of inadequacy with kindness, understanding and encouragement, instead of cold and callous judgment.
So, what are its benefits for mental health? And how can self-compassion be practiced actively?
Let’s dive deep into the realm of self-compassion for some answers!
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion involves directing compassion inwardly. It consists of three key parts that work together:
1) Self-kindness vs. self-judgement, which means being caring and understanding towards oneself instead of harshly self-critical and offering comfort and support during tough times instead of taking a cold and judgmental approach.
2) Common humanity vs isolation, recognizing that everyone is flawed, makes mistakes and experiences failures. It connects one's own imperfect state to the shared human condition so that personal shortcomings and difficulties can be looked at from a greater perspective.
3) Mindfulness vs over-identification involves being aware of the present moment in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor dwells too much on the negative aspects of oneself or one's life.
Extensive research shows that self-compassion is an effective resource for coping and building resilience, significantly improving both mental and physical well-being. This approach not only boosts motivation for personal growth and goal attainment but is rooted in care and the pursuit of happiness, rather than a sense of inadequacy.
How is self-compassion developed?
Self-compassion plays a vital role in various stages of life. For adolescents, supportive parenting, harmonious family dynamics, and secure attachment contribute to higher self-compassion. Tendencies like adolescent egocentrism, wherein teenagers are overly self-involved and unable to differentiate their perception of what others think about them and what people think in reality, are associated with lower self-compassion. Moreover, self-compassion seems to referee the connections between family factors, adolescent egocentrism, and well-being (in terms of depression, anxiety and connectedness), signaling its importance in shaping healthy inner dialogues with the self.
As individuals mature, self-compassion continues to be essential. Research indicates that it is positively associated with age, emotional intelligence, and wisdom. It represents qualities of emotional maturity, including non-judgmental acceptance of the self and of others.
Why be more self-compassionate?
The benefits of self-compassion are well-supported by research. Here are some of them:
1. Increases Motivation - Self-compassion and self-acceptance can increase motivation to recover from failure and improve on weaknesses.
2. Boosts Happiness - Self-compassion is associated with better moods and positive characteristics like optimism, wisdom, personal initiative, and curiosity.
3. Improves Body Image - Self-compassion can lead to a healthier body image and decreased body shame. People who practice self-compassion can experience less preoccupation with their appearance, fewer concerns about weight, and greater appreciation toward their bodies.
4. Enhances Self-Worth - High self-esteem often depends on social comparisons and external circumstances, but self-compassion comes from within oneself. It can help an individual feel better despite instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection.
5. Nurtures Resilience to Adversity - Self-compassion is often key in overcoming hardships since it improves emotional recovery.
6. Reduces Psychological Distress - Higher levels of self-compassion are linked to greater psychological well-being and decreased mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
How to practice self-compassion?
Learning to be self-compassionate requires adopting approaches from various dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Here are a range of techniques that can help nurture self-compassion:
- Attending to the body’s needs – This involves consuming nourishing foods, allowing oneself periods of rest, taking walks and massaging one’s own neck, feet, or hands to feel better physically.
- Writing a letter addressed to the self – Describing an emotionally distressing situation without blaming anyone can help an individual validate their feelings.
- Providing words of encouragement - Imagining what supportive advice an individual might give to a close friend dealing with an adversity and then applying it to their own situation might help in readjusting the perspective.
- Practicing mindfulness – Observing one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions without passing judgment or attempting to suppress them can help embrace both positive and negative aspects with compassion.
Self-compassion is the art of treating ourselves with the same kindness, understanding, and support that we naturally extend to others. Its three key components — self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness — create a framework that promotes genuine psychological well-being. It leads to increased feelings of happiness, curiosity, optimism, and connectedness, while also reducing anxiety, depression, rumination, and fear of failure.
The journey towards self-compassion is all about learning from mistakes and improving unhelpful behaviors. It is not merely a luxury but a necessity for holistic health. By embarking on the path of self-compassion, we unlock a treasure trove of inner resources that uplift us in the face of challenges and guide us toward a more contented, fulfilling life.
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Science Explains the Link Between Self-Compassion and Success, Forbes.com
The Many Benefits of Self-Compassion, Psychology Today
The power of self-compassion, Harvard Health
The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself, NIH.gov
The Scientific Benefits of Self-Compassion - The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford.edu