Two Steps To Self-Compassion


By: Abigail Yeomans LPC

People tend to talk about self-esteem when referring to the way they feel about themselves. Today we are going to have a different conversation about something called self-compassion. What’s the difference? You may ask.

To begin, one definition of self-esteem is “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself” according to Merriam-Webster. Whereas self-compassion can be defined as “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.” -Dr. Kristin Neff.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion, “Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.” She explains how self-esteem typically requires us first to evaluate ourselves and can result in the unhealthy comparisons between ourselves and others. So, if we don’t perceive ourselves to be amazing or “on top” in some way it can lead us to feel emotions like sadness, inadequacy, pain, frustration, anxiety and even create a significant shift in our self-concept. This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t work toward building a healthy esteem, but it helps clarify the downside of leaving self-compassion behind when the goal is to develop a greater sense of self-respect.

Self-compassion involves non-judgment, recognizing that we are worthy of self-respect and kindness. There isn’t an expectation to feel amazing about ourselves, but instead to allow ourselves to normalize the emotions that we experience when we fail or make mistakes.

So, what does it take to develop self-compassion?

It’s a simple, two-step, exercise. So, even if it feels strange at first, give it a few tries!

  1. Start by normalizing that you are experiencing a painful moment, and recognize that all humans are imperfect. In other words, remind yourself you are not alone and try not to suppress the pain, sadness, or any other emotions you are experiencing. Research has shown that suppressing emotions only provides temporary relief. Ultimately, suppression will create the same result as if you pushed a beach ball underwater. No matter how hard you try, the beach ball will rise with more force than if you let it float along with the current.
  1. After you practice mindfulness of your emotional experience and remind yourself of the common humanity that all humans are imperfect, be kind to yourself. Practice being as kind to yourself as you would be to someone care about. Ask yourself, “what would I say to a friend right now?” Then, say it to yourself!

To summarize, Dr. Neff explains,”With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”

Cultivating a protective and supportive voice within can make all the difference when our problems seem to isolate us from what we value. By practicing exercises like the one above or starting a journal that voice will get a little louder and dim judgment’s noise.

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