What is Self-Compassion & Its Impact On Mental Health

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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When it comes to being kind and compassionate, we find it easier to be so with others than with our own selves. We tend to beat ourselves up for every mistake, big or small, and often forget that we too deserve the kindness, understanding, and warmth that we so willingly give others. Instead, we relentlessly criticize and judge ourselves for our insufficiencies and shortcomings, forgetting that our limitations are what make us human. But, why do we tend to be so harsh with ourselves, how do we cultivate self-compassion in our daily lives, and how does it help our psychological well-being? Let us find out.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion means the act of kindness, patience, non-judgment, and acceptance you show towards yourself during a difficult time or when confronted with personal failings. It involves treating yourself the way you would treat someone you love. Say, for instance, your friend has had a bad day at work and was criticized by her supervisor for a silly mistake. She is deeply hurt and calls you to narrate the entire incident with a hope that you will understand. However, contrary to her expectations, you end up saying, “Well honestly speaking, you are quite absent-minded. This mistake was silly and you could have easily avoided it had you not been distracted. Why are you so unprofessional? You deserved it.”

You would never talk this way to someone you love and care about, right? But, as sad as it may sound, this is exactly how most of us tend to speak to ourselves if we are the ones experiencing something similar. When we exercise self-compassion, we approach the same topic with love and care and say, “I am sorry that you had to go through such a thing. I hope you are doing okay. Mistakes happen. Let it go. Don’t let this one silly mistake undo all your previous accomplishments. Remember I am here for you and I deeply appreciate you.” When we treat ourselves with kindness and not self-criticism, are mindful about our pain, and acknowledge our suffering, it helps us to cultivate an objective perspective towards our own mistakes and eventually our lives. This allows us to make peace with our inadequacies and move on.

A vector illustration of a woman or girl sitting, hugging her heart

Self-compassion means being understanding toward ourselves when we suffer. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Elements of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion may be a concept drawn from the Buddhist philosophy, but it was Dr. Kristen Neff, an associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin, who was the first to evaluate and practically put in place a definition for the concept. In her work, she has identified three core components or elements of self-compassion. They are:

Self-kindness as opposed to self-judgment: The first element is to replace self-judgment with self-kindness. This means using self-compassion as a tool for being warm and supportive of ourselves rather than being cold and judgemental. It helps in understanding the difference between making a bad choice/decision and being a bad person, which further strengthens a person’s sense of self-worth.

Common humanity as opposed to a feeling of isolation: It is our need to be perfect all the time that makes it difficult to accept our own mistakes and be compassionate with ourselves. It is important to recognize that being imperfect is a part of a shared human experience. No one is perfect. Realizing and fully accepting that is necessary. When we don’t have things exactly as we want them, we are groped with an unreasonable and pervasive feeling of isolation, which has us thinking that we are the only ones suffering. However, self-compassion makes us realize that you are not alone in your suffering and it is in these moments of complete despair that you can feel more connected to people.

Mindfulness as opposed to overidentification: It is important to develop a balanced approach towards our negative emotions so that we neither suppress nor overemphasize them. That is where mindfulness comes into the picture. When you become mindfully aware of your negative emotions and thought patterns, you will be able to gain clarity and look at them differently, gaining a better perspective. To simply put it, don’t repress your emotions, or deny them altogether. If you do so, you will never be able to exercise self-compassion. Tell yourself, “This is hard. This is painful. This hurts. This is where I need to be compassionate with myself.”

How does Self-Compassion Benefit Your Mental Health?

A lot of research has been conducted over the last decade to prove that exercising self-compassion has several positive effects on one’s psychological well being. Some of the impacts are as follows.

Manages Depression

People tend to be extremely self-critical in a tryst to motivate themselves. But what they tend to overlook is that it is often counterproductive. Self-criticism is also firmly connected with depression and that is contrary to motivation. Depression will make you doubt yourself, which will eventually stop you from changing anything and you will constantly suffer in your own endless loop of failure. Self-compassion will help you look within, accept things for what they are, manage depressive tendencies, and give you the clarity and emotional strength to break your cycle of misery.

Develops Greater Social Connectedness

Self-compassion also helps promote social connectedness. A 2016 research published by a team of Malaysian researchers showed how people who were able to exhibit self-compassion were able to be more resilient to encounter negative tendencies, eventually enabling them to foster social connections and relationships with more frequency and vigor.

A woman hugging herself with a smile across her face against a yellow background

It is important to be compassionate and take care of yourself. Picture Credit: Shutterstock

Predicts Stability of Self Worth

People often mistake self-compassion with self-esteem. Self-esteem is the degree to which we judge ourselves positively. It acts as a measurement of how much we like and value ourselves and this is often measured in relative terms by comparing ourselves to others. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is a way of relating to ourselves without any evaluation or judgment. It thus helps us be true to ourselves and acts as a better determinant of self-worth – one that is less dependent on the outcomes, social comparisons, or less reactive to anger or any other trigger.

Builds A Growth Mindset

Self-compassion helps you reflect and accept yourself for who you are without any unrealistic expectations. Self-reflection is the starting point of any kind of growth. When you realistically assess where you stand with all your strengths and limitations, that is when you will be able to truly grow and improve whilst developing a positive bent of mind towards change.

Promotes Greater Life Satisfaction and Happiness

Research has shown that humans have a psychological need for love and belonging. But what is perhaps truer and more important is the relationship that people share with themselves. Our perception and thoughts about ourselves have a big role to play in our overall well-being and eventually our social connections. And self-compassion helps to change the way we look at ourselves. If we are able to accept ourselves for who we are, we will be able to nurture a healthy relationship with ourselves and eventually others, leading to greater happiness and life satisfaction.

How to Cultivate Self-Compassion?

While some people may find it easy to be self-compassionate, there are others who really struggle with it. However, this is a skill that can be learned and developed over time by being patient and mindful along the process. While there may be several techniques and training courses for the same, a report by the Harvard Medical School has suggested a few ways to practice and develop the skill in our daily lives. They are as follows.

  • Mindful meditation: Daily practice of meditation will help you stay calm and centered, accept yourself and the situation you are struggling with, and help you gain perspective.
  • Pen down a compassionate letter to yourself: Be mindfully aware of the painful situation you are going through. Sit with the uncomfortable feeling and write a compassionate letter to yourself describing the situation and without blaming anyone, especially yourself. This will train you to nurture and understand your own feelings by being objective.
  • Give your body the love it deserves: Eat something healthy, take up whichever form of exercise you want to, take ample rest, go in for aromatherapy or spa. Do whatever it takes to give your body the much-deserved dose of compassion.
  • Be your own friend: Encourage and speak to yourself as you would with a dear friend. Use compassionate words to cheer and motivate yourself for growth and change.
  • Practice forgiveness: Understand in the core of your being that to err is human and to forgive is divine. Stop punishing yourself for the mistakes you have committed. Grow from your mistake, forgive yourself, and let it go.
  • Express gratitude: There is strength in knowing and accepting what you have right now. When we get into the habit of counting our blessings daily, it will help us to employ a gentler inner voice and move our focus from our shortcomings to the things that make our life beautiful and meaningful. Maintain a gratitude journal.
  • Reach out: Never shy away from asking for help. Reach out to a therapist or even your loved ones to share your story and allow them to help you see through your own negative beliefs about yourself. This will help you find your way back to the amazing person you have always been.
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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani has completed an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. 

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