Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations
A lot of times when people hear the words self-compassion, they think that it means giving excuses, slacking off, a cop-out, letting yourself off the hook. Maybe that person is you. Maybe you read that list nodding your head up and down and internally m-hmmm-ing.
Well, I want you to change your mind. I want to convince you that self-compassion is the farthest thing from letting yourself off the hook or whatever other negative perception you may have had of the concept thus far.
I’ve had similar thoughts, I’ll admit. I thought criticizing myself was the way in which to protect myself, to make myself work harder, to improve. Yet research by Dr. Kristen Neff shows that criticism does exactly the opposite. Criticism discourages improvement and encourages a loss in self-worth, whereas self-compassion allows us to embrace our shortcomings in a manner that lets us continue forward.
You’re probably still skeptical. That’s why I want to discuss a topic I had brought up to me in a group I attend called Embracing Your Body. In the group, we are working through The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook. At one point, the workbook combats the misconceptions people generally have in regards to self-compassion, which I want to share with you.
The first misconception the workbook brings up is self-indulgence. A lot of people think self-compassion is merely giving yourself an excuse to do what you want whenever you want. Yet as the workbook points out, this reflects “an unwillingness to invest effort to make meaningful changes in yourself or the world” (Desmond, 9). This is quite the opposite of the goal of self-compassion. With self-compassion in mind, you desire to improve, to become a better version of yourself. You practice self-compassion to allow yourself to make meaningful changes in your life. Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves in realizing that we aren’t perfect and there are ways in which we can improve ourselves, whereas self-indulgence fails to admit that we need to improve ourselves at all.
The second misconception is that self-compassion equates to self-pity. That is, we mess up, and we immediately feel sorry for ourselves and believe that the world is out to get us. But as the workbook explains, “self-pity suggests that life is something that happens to you, that you are a victim of circumstances and have no role in shaping your experience” (Desmond, 9). Self-compassion is a recognition that messing up and making mistakes is a part of being human. It acknowledges the fact that sometimes we fall short and that we can strive to improve ourselves each day. In this manner, self-compassion does not put the blame on the world but allows ourselves to take responsibility for our own flaws (pride, insensitivity, overly controlling, etc.). And by realizing that we aren’t the only one who messes up, we are more likely to strive to become better versions of ourselves than just wallow in our own pity party.
The third misconception is that self-compassion is passive. In other words, it means we are not actively doing something to better the situation we are critical of (i.e. we got a bad grade, we missed a deadline, we didn’t get into the college we wanted to, etc.). I want to point something out that one of the other individuals in the group I attend said that really stuck out to me. She said that, if you think about it, self-criticism is the easier route. It’s the cop-out. It’s what we’re used to, and it comes naturally. So, in reality, self-compassion is the harder choice – the one we have to strive more actively and consciously to achieve, thus making it exactly the opposite of passivity.
The final misconception the workbook mentions is egotism. Some people are convinced that self-compassion is egotistic, as the focus is on the self. But this is entirely untrue. By practicing self-compassion, we are able to become individuals who can be more present and supportive with others. When we practice self-compassion, we are filled up. We give ourselves the space needed to recharge and by doing so, we are better able to be there for others when we want/need to. In other words, “true self-compassion enhances your compassion for others rather than undermining it” (Desmond, 10).