Esther Lee, Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
6 March 2018
Think about the last time you showed an act of kindness to a family member, friend, neighbour or even a complete stranger… Thought of one?
Now, think about the last time you were kind and understanding towards yourself…. If you’re having trouble thinking of a time, you are not alone. We tend to have lots of compassion for others but surprisingly very little for ourselves.
When I raise the topic of self-compassion in conversation with others, I often get confused faces staring back at me.
So, what is self-compassion and why is it so important?
Self-compassion is about being warm, understanding and kind towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, rather than ignoring or minimising your pain and suffering.
It is completely different to self-pity or self-indulgence! Being self-compassionate does not equate to feeling sorry for yourself or treating yourself excessively to “make up” for your shortcomings. It is about noticing your pain with a non-judgmental attitude, feeling the desire to care for and nurture yourself, and embracing your failures and imperfections with a kind, genuine heart.
Having self-compassion is important as it enhances self-worth, increases positive emotion and motivation, fosters resilience to adversity, and assists to maintain balance in stressful situations.
Why is it so difficult for us to have self-compassion?
I would say that the biggest barrier is self-criticism. We often beat ourselves up for the smallest mistakes and form judgments about ourselves ever so quickly. In my clinical work, I often meet people who are deeply troubled by a small critical voice in their head that always told them- “That’s not good enough”, “You don’t deserve that”, “Stop whinging and get a move on!”
We are often our own harshest critics but the worse thing is that self-criticism gets louder and stronger as we are under more stress.
So, how can we be more self-compassionate?
Tip 1- Notice when you need care
Think about how you notice that others need your care. How would you or others know when YOU need care? Be attuned to subtle signs (e.g. spending more time in isolation, being tearful and lethargic) and don’t ignore them.
Tip 2- Offer words of kindness and encouragement to yourself
This can be a little awkward at first but it has an enormous effect on emotion and behaviour. Think about what you are saying to yourself already and evaluate whether it is helpful for you. Then you might choose to write yourself a little note of encouragement or decide to verbally encourage yourself while looking into a mirror. Research shows that positive or motivational self-talk helps to improve performance.
Tip 3- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
When we don’t have the resources to look after ourselves, it’s easy to neglect or suppress our needs. The thing is, however, the pain and suffering will only get worse if we don’t attend to it. Reach out for help- to a family member, friend, neighbour, mental health professional, telephone helpline or online counselling websites and get the assistance you need.
Indeed, it may be difficult to initiate the practice of self-compassion. However, one act of kindness to yourself may just be the spark needed to power the positive cycle of physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.
If you think you, or some you know, may benefit from having some support to challenge their inner critic and increase self-compassion, please contact The Talbot Centre for more information on how we can assist you.
Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
Esther works with children, adolescents and adults with a variety of presenting concerns and from various cultural backgrounds. She has worked in both hospital and community settings, gaining valuable insight into how mental health issues influence social, family, vocational and educational realms of life, and potentially distort how we see ourselves.