Busting the Myths of Self-Compassion
Catie Peters, ASW
Self-compassion is all about taking a kinder approach to ourselves and our experience. If you were to feel compassion for another person in distress, you would most likely have gone through the following three steps to get there:
- You need to notice the person is in distress;
- You feel a sense of connectedness with this person through common humanity; and
- You then feel kindness or understanding of the person, rather than judgement of their distress
These three components are also what are needed to practice self-compassion. We first need to notice that we are suffering and recognize our suffering as part of the common human experience (we all have needs, and we all hurt when our needs are not met). We can then respond to ourselves with kindness rather than criticism.
But wait, is self-compassion the same thing as self-pity? Does self-compassion mean letting myself off the hook instead of working on improvements? There are many myths about self-compassion that are commonly believed, so let’s take a look at some of them.
How is self-compassion not a form of self-pity?
Mindful self-compassion does not exaggerate the extent of your suffering, it is not saying “woe is me.” It involves an awareness of our experience that does not avoid, resist, or exaggerate. Self-compassion gives us more willingness to accept, experience, and acknowledge difficult feelings with kindness, which in turn helps us digest what has happened and move forward.
Will practicing self-compassion make me selfish?
Research has demonstrated that being kind to yourself actually increases your emotional resources for being kind to others. Meanwhile, being harsh with yourself limits your ability to show others kindness. Practicing self-compassion is about including ourselves in the circle of compassion with everyone else. Researchers found that self-compassionate people were rated as being more caring and giving in their relationships than people who don’t practice self-compassion.
Is self-compassion weak or passive?
Self-compassion fuels resilience and the ability to survive adversity. It is about being an inner ally in the face of painful life challenges. Research demonstrates that self-compassionate people are more successful in coping with challenging situations such as divorce and trauma.
Can’t self-compassion be a form of making excuses?
When we use self-compassion, we provide the safety we need to make mistakes without finding something else or someone else to blame for them. This practice leads to a greater personal responsibility for our behavior, and evidence points to an increased likelihood to apologize when we’ve offended someone.
Will self-compassion undermine motivation to improve?
Many people have the belief that if they don’t criticize themselves in their failures, they will succumb to defeat. This assumption is not necessarily true. The self-compassionate desire for health and well-being sparks motivation. Research shows that self-compassionate people are more motivated to change as a result of motivating themselves with encouragement rather than criticism. Research also shows that self-compassionate people tend to have high personal standards. However, by not beating themselves up when they fail, they hold less fear of failure, and they are more likely to persist and try again. While self-criticism can sometimes work as a motivator (you try hard in order to avoid self-judgement of failure), it can also lead to a fear of failure so big that it prevents us from even trying in the first place.
Go ahead and give self-compassion a try. If it feels inauthentic or awkward at first, that’s okay; this feeling will pass with more practice. A good starting point is just noticing how you feel and acknowledging what it’s like for you to feel that way. If you would like to discuss further with a therapist, please visit goodtherapysandiego.com or contact us at (619) 330-9500 to get started!
Germer, C., & Neff, K. (2019). Teaching the mindful self-compassion program: A guide for professionals. Guilford Publications.