Building Self Compassion
Self-compassion is important
Though building and maintaining one’s self-esteem is stressed as fundamental to good mental health, I have found through my work that too few of us have spent enough time developing another trait that is fundamental to our well-being: self-compassion. And while both personality traits go hand-in-hand, it is self-compassion that gives us patience with, and trust in, ourselves to ultimately develop and maintain a healthy level of self-esteem.
What is self-compassion and how does it differ from self-esteem?
Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself. It’s very easy to turn against yourself if you’ve made a mistake or not performed like you expected, ending up being overly critical and feeding a negative narrative about how you have failed and what that means about you. And yet when a friend or loved one turns to you feeling the same way, I bet you don’t end up agreeing with them!
Self-compassion is about showing the same level of kindness and judgement-free care that you might have toward a friend, but for yourself. It’s about developing a friend within yourself that you can talk to about what you’re experiencing and how you feel, and having it received gently and sensitively – with kindness, love and understanding – and without any of the unhelpful and overly critical negative feedback. When you have this, you end up recognizing how you feel, giving yourself permission to accept your hurt, suffering, anger, disappointment and pain, and finally feeling comforted and understand your feelings enough to then commit to doing something about whatever it is that led to them.
Where self-compassion is about how you relate to yourself, self-esteem is about how you measure yourself against others. With self-compassion comes strength to build the resilience necessary for developing a healthy level self-esteem; the more you trust that you can comfort and pick yourself up when you’re feeling inadequate, you begin to develop confidence in yourself as it relates to others.
The 3 components to developing self-compassion
Neff and Davidson (2016), in their paper entitled “Self-Compassion: Embracing Suffering with Kindness,” wrote that there are three facets to self-compassion; requiring that we are self-reflective and aware of how we feel, able to recognize that our feelings are part-and-parcel with life’s journey and not unlike feelings others experience, and comforting – without judgement – as we feel them; (1) mindfulness, (2) common humanity and (3) self-kindness.
Self-compassion is an important skill to develop
Self-esteem is fundamental to good mental health. Without it, we risk developing a generalized hostility toward ourselves by defaulting to the negative self-critical narrative whenever something goes wrong; this can not only be exhausting, but can lead to more serious concerns like anxiety and depression, both of which can severely impact your overall wellbeing.
Needless to say, working on being compassionate with ourselves is important. If you find that you’re struggling to build self-compassion, I encourage you to work with a therapist to develop it. Not only is it a precursor to developing a healthy level of self-esteem, but it could very well be at the very core of what is required to living a joyful life.
Farah Premji, MSc., is a trained EMDR therapist and is experienced in many other areas. For more information on Farah and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.