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By Poppy Jamie
elf-love has been a big topic on social media for the past few years. And that’s great to see. But while these motivational messages tell us to love and appreciate ourselves, they rarely tell us to be compassionate to ourselves.
Practising self-compassion is about examining our behaviour and understanding why we do what we do. This awareness allows us to work on our bad habits and personal development while still loving ourselves unconditionally.
It can be a confusing concept, especially since it sounds so similar to self-love. Whereas self-love is about focusing on the positives and loving yourself – you are great, you are amazing, and you can do whatever you put your mind to – self-compassion is about acknowledging and accepting the negative parts of yourself too.
We know how to be compassionate to others. When they are feeling low, we are there to pick them up and be a shoulder to cry on – we don’t judge them or blame them. Self-compassion is being that person for yourself, which can be hard to do as we are often our own biggest critics.
Understand why we do what we do
At the heart of self-compassion is the understanding that behind every action is a human need. There is a reason you drank too much, ate too much or spent too much and, by diving beneath the surface, we can see the human need. For growth and recovery, we need to understand why we do what we do. Including the uncomfortable bits.
Our bad behaviour is not the problem; it is a symptom of a problem we need to uncover. For example, instead of saying to yourself “Urgh, I ate the whole pack of biscuits”, reframing it as: ‘When you’re feeling tired and vulnerable, you eat to comfort yourself,” is kinder, more self-aware and more likely to help you grow.
Another key element of self-compassion is the ability to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. We often think anything that is not happy or positive is a problem and stands in the way of our growth, and we fight any negative feelings. By shutting it out, we think we have gotten rid of it. But, in reality, this makes self-love even harder to achieve. Self-love comes from acceptance – and until you embrace all of you, you aren’t fully accepting yourself.
Empowerment coach and author Nicky Clinch sees self-compassion as being able to recognise the pain, struggle, and suffering in yourself and being able to say: “This is OK, I still love you.” It’s a deep love that comes from complete acceptance and understanding.
Focus less on escapism
A study from the Journal of Research in Personality found practising self-compassion, and having the ability to be kind to yourself when you feel like you have failed, strengthened overall psychological health and wellbeing, creating a happier, more optimistic mindset.
Other research shows that self-compassion provides greater emotional resilience and stability than self‐esteem. Whereas self‐esteem often involves the need to be “special”, self‐compassion is a way of relating to ourselves even when we experience failure or feel inadequate. In another study, researchers found self-compassionate people focus less on avoidance and escapism in difficult situations.
Self-compassion is not a self-indulgent behaviour, but a form of self-care. Loving yourself is important, but how you achieve self-love is just as important. To live in true harmony with ourselves and to love ourselves on a deeper level, we need to understand our motivations, fears, and struggles. And to do that, we need to extend the compassion that we show to others to ourselves.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool for healing and growth. It helps us understand why we do the things we do and accept ourselves for who we are.
By Poppy Jamie