Tackling goals—whether at work, at home, or in fitness—can be challenging. But if you take care of the mind, it can help you take care of everything else.
We all have that “inner critic” voice in our head. Our inner critic is that believable and nagging voice, which says unkind or even downright mean things to us. Some people are reluctant to challenge their inner critic because they believe that it serves to motivate them, however this could not be further from the truth. While it is impossible to completely get rid of your inner critic, you can take away a lot of your inner critic’s power through the practice of self-compassion.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is not just some new-age concept reserved for yogis and the spiritually enlightened. Practicing self-compassion is also not the same thing as being self-centered. Self-compassion is simply treating yourself with the same kindness and care that you would extend to a loved one.
According to Kristen Neff, a self-compassion researcher, the three components of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness entails being understanding and warm to ourselves when we fail or make mistakes. Common humanity is simply recognizing that suffering and setbacks are normal and expected parts of life that everyone will encounter. The element of mindfulness involves observing our emotions and thoughts in a nonjudgmental manner.
Benefits of self-compassion
Kate McCauley, MEd, LCSW, a psychotherapist, says, “The only road to true mental health is self-compassion. It’s the only way to live, as Brené Brown says, wholeheartedly. Without it, you enter the world from a defensive perspective, protecting yourself from your own inner self critic.”
Working to be kind to yourself, rather than “beating yourself up” in the face of mistakes or setbacks, has a variety of surprising benefits.
Judging or berating oneself for food choices may cause individuals to develop a disordered or unhealthy relationship to food. Additionally, feeling guilt surrounding food choices may lead to subsequent binge or emotional-overeating.
Karen Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and author of six books including, The Rules of “Normal” Eating, says, “I believe that self-compassion is the cornerstone of mental health. I’ve learned this from working with a population of people with eating problems who are very hard on themselves. It’s not until they feel self-compassion that they can shift their beliefs, feelings and behaviors to become more “normal” eaters.”
Practicing self-compassion has also been demonstrated to improve body image. A study from the journal Body Image found that “regardless of their weight, women with higher self-compassion have better body image and fewer concerns about weight, body, shape, or eating.”
Instead of looking to feel better about your body or improve your eating habits through the latest fad diet plan, try being kinder to yourself—it’s research proven to actually work in the long-term.
The practice of self-compassion has a variety of physiological benefits that can help your body to better cope with stressors.
Bernard Golden, Ph.D., the author of Overcoming Destructive Anger, says, “Compassionate feelings and thoughts can physically affect your body to create a sense of safety, calm, connection and caring. This happens in part due to a release of the hormone oxytocin, which dampens anger arousal. Oxytocin also reduces stress and irritability.”
Golden continues, “Research suggests that evoking compassion also activates the vagus nerve, which creates calmness.” Therefore, the next time you feel the urge to beat yourself up for making a mistake or being imperfect, try being kind to yourself instead. Your body and mind will thank you in the long run.
Dr. Chantal Marie Gagnon, Ph.D., LMHC, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, says, “The most important benefit of self-compassion is that it simultaneously improves our well-being and our relationships. When we are more compassionate with ourselves, we are more forgiving toward others and our relationships improve because people begin to experience us as kind.”
When we are kinder and more forgiving to ourselves, it makes sense that we would approach others more compassionately. Therefore, self-compassion not only improves our relationship with ourselves—it also strengthens our relationships with others.
Putting it into practice
The next time you are faced with a stressor, setback, or failure, instead of berating yourself, work to practice self-compassion. Alexandra Katehakis, MFT, CST-S, CSAT-S, psychotherapist and the Founder and Clinical Director of Center for Healthy Sex, says, “When life doesn’t go as planned, practice self-compassion by soothing yourself with kind words and thoughts. Speak to yourself as you would to a frightened child or pet. Do this aloud, tapping into the healing power of your own loving voice. The gift of self-compassion is worth your full attention and practice, regardless of how uncomfortable it feels right now.”
It may feel difficult at first, but will eventually become more natural with time and practice. Ultimately, you deserve to extend the same kindness to yourself that you would give to someone you love.