Many of us have a hard time practicing self-compassion because of the negative thoughts swirling in our heads. I used to think everything from I don’t deserve compassion to I need to shame myself instead to I should prepare myself for reality (i.e., negative things).
All of these types of thoughts are simply the scared words of an inner critic, who’s worried we’re pulling away, who’s desperately trying to hold on to the negativity and darkness.
Self-compassion threatens all of that (the muck, the misery, the shame). And, of course, that’s a great thing.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
In her book The Power of Self-Compassion: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence, clinical psychologist Mary Welford, DClinPsy, defines self-compassion as “sensitivity to the pain — be it psychological or physical — that we may experience, plus a motivation and genuine commitment to relieve it.”
Self-compassion involves encouraging and supporting ourselves, and sometimes, even pushing ourselves (when it’s in our best interests), Welford writes. It’s about recognizing that we’re struggling and committing to improving things.
In her helpful book, Welford reveals the truth behind 10 thoughts that interfere with practicing self-compassion. Here are five thoughts that I’ve run across — along with Welford’s wise words on relinquishing these ruminations.
1. Self-sabotaging thought: Self-compassion is selfish.
To the contrary, self-compassion actually helps you be more compassionate and more helpful to others. Welford writes, “Having become more self-compassionate, people often report having greater strength to deal with conflicts and to become better friends, parents, and colleagues. Lack of self-compassion, by contrast, means that we are more likely to become immobilized or consumed by our own difficulties and therefore less able to help others.”
2. Self-sabotaging thought: My needs aren’t as important as someone else’s.
Many of us think that other people’s needs trump our own. But here’s what happens when we neglect our needs (including the need for self-compassion): we become depleted and even feel angry, resentful and taken for granted.
Plus, remember that here’s no harm in trying out self-compassion. As Welford writes, “If you still think that the needs of others are more important than your own, start practicing self-compassion for the sake of others. You can always revert back to your old ways if you find it doesn’t help.”
3. Self-sabotaging thought: Self-compassion is weak.
Self-compassion is actually courageous. According to Welford, “It involves facing our difficulties and experiencing a range of emotions that are uncomfortable.” (Yes, it does. Self-compassion is about identifying, acknowledging and expressing our emotions “instead of bottling them up.”)
It also involves “the commitment to change ourselves, which requires courage and strength.”
For instance, being self-compassionate might mean standing up for yourself, even though you’re oh-so used to remaining quiet. It also might mean letting people see the real you.
4. Self-sabotaging thought: Self-compassion sets us up for falls or failure.
There’s a common fear that if you don’t expect the worst, you’re clearly not preparing yourself for something big and terrible. As such, people worry about being in a positive mood or being too relaxed. People also worry that positive feelings will somehow attract negative ones.
I’m definitely one of those people.
But self-compassion is actually a helpful way to prepare yourself for tough times. Self-compassion, writes Welford, “…builds your ability to cope with hard situations, and it’s through coping with setbacks that self-confidence in our ability to cope increases.”
And, again, remind yourself that you’re simply going to sample self-compassion. “If fear of falling gets in the way of your experiencing positive feelings, it may be helpful just to think, I’ll give it a go. I can always revert to my old ways.”
5. Self-sabotaging thought: Self-compassion is too overwhelming.
When you’re so accustomed to bashing yourself, self-compassion may certainly feel different and difficult. And that’s OK.
You can start slow. Welford suggests the following ideas: Start gradually, like you would if you were learning how to swim (you’d start at the shallow end, and then slowly move into deeper waters). Engage in fun, healthy activities and experiences, such as hanging out with close friends. If you think you need extra support, see a therapist.
Here’s a list of how-to posts on practicing self-compassion:
- Connecting to your self-compassion.
- The case for self-compassion.
- Strategies for practicing self-compassion.
- Practicing self-compassion when you have a mental illness.
- More exercises on self-compassion.
- An exercise in self-compassionate parenting.
- Using compassion to cope with anxiety.