Self care has become a buzzword in our society, but has it actually become another stick with which to beat ourselves for not doing it ‘right’? Lately a lot of us have got a whole lot more time but we might also have a whole lot more anxiety or a whole lot more relationship minutiae to exam and work through or a whole lot of anything else pulling us away from ourselves. We may also have noticed a fresh onslaught of imagery telling us we should be taking this time to improve ourselves or at the least come out of lockdown ‘better than we went in’. Pahh. Bubble baths and massages and walks by the sea are all absolutely fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but what if we haven’t managed to do those things today? Or yesterday? Or for the past month?
This is where self compassion comes in. To me self compassion is one of the most important but under-appreciated values we can have as loving, caring, human animals. Being kind to yourself, honestly kind to yourself, is such a gift. However, in the age of the super busy, self-compassion has taken a back seat. We are overstimulated and unable to disconnect freely from the intensity of life. It seems like we are constantly expected to be available and ready, whether that’s work or social pressure, it’s just that, pressure. Being constantly connected, via apps or email or however it manifests, cuts us off from our ability to truly disconnect, from what we have to do and connect back with life-giving practices.
It feels like as a society we have disconnected from self-compassion. It has become almost a matter of pride to be busy, to manage everything. Although self-love and self-compassion are becoming more talked about and more and more research is being done, from conversations I’ve had with my friends it seems we STILL feel guilty for being kind to ourselves.
I don’t need need self-compassion, I’ve got self-esteem…
Dr Kristin Neff, author of the book Self-Compassion, has done research into the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem. Self-esteem is something that has been talked about for years. I remember learning, at home and at school, about the importance of having high self-esteem and working hard to maintain it. However, high self-esteem without the tools for self-compassion can be unfulfilling too. Neff says ‘While there is little doubt that low self-esteem is problematic and often leads to depression and lack of motivation, trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic’. Without a foundation of self-compassion, high self-esteem can lead to narcissistic tendencies. Self-esteem is all about our value and often leads us to compare ourselves to others to work out what are value is.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, compares you to no one, not even yourself. Yesterday you meditated for half an hour but today you sat down and fidgeted for two minutes? Self-compassion allows you to be ok with that, it allows you to accept yourself for who you are, where you are at each moment.
I am not worthy…
I have noticed a trend in my friends, and noticed it in myself too, of feeling that you don’t deserve self-compassion. Not only because we think we ‘should’ do better, but because we know we could and we cannot accept that we don’t behave according to our higher selves at all times.
Even though I try to actively practise self-compassion, there is often a nagging voice, behind the kind one, that says ‘who do you think you are? You don’t deserve forgiveness…you better do better next time’. That’s the point though, it’s a practice. Much like yoga, and indeed, overlapping, practice makes progress.When I look back at what my inner dialogue looked like 10 years ago I can see how this practice has changed me. I remember making a conscious decision to accept myself. Since then I have learnt and am still learning that I am human and I deserve all the love and empathy that comes with that. We all do. Now, instead of beating myself up for not saying the right thing, or berating myself for not coming off as funny and interesting in every social interaction, I can recognise that I do my best and that is enough. That doesn’t mean I’m always my best self, but I’m always the best I can be in a situation, even when I’m not. It’s not an excuse to sit down and say, I’m already everything I don’t need to grow, but it helps me understand that I everything is already within me and I can learn to access those loving aspects of myself.
Self-compassion allows me more mental space to grow, to face up to myself. It’s not always the way, I still catch myself being stringent or cold with myself and I’m sure there are plenty of times when I don’t catch it too. Journaling has been an eye-opening tool in my self-compassion practice. Writing down what you’re going through can help you recognise when you are being hard on yourself.
You have the power…
It is a conscious choice that has to be made, to be gentle with yourself. It might feel unnatural or uncomfortable at first. It might bring up more negative voices. It is worth continuing with though. Start loving yourself freely and completely and lose any shame you might unconsciously associate with that.
There is a whole style of therapy dedicated to this philosophy – compassion-focused therapy. Developed by Paul Gilbert, it threads together ideas from many different therapies and systems, to bring softness with self to the forefront of a persons behaviours.
Being consciously gentle with other people can be a good place to start. Once you begin to recognise how and when compassion is used, you can start to extend that understanding to your self and your own actions and thoughts. We are part of nature and it matters how we treat ourselves as much as how we treat other beings. We deserve to be our flawed selves and learn to grow and love ourselves. How we treat ourselves reflects how we treat the world, and vice versa. As truly connected beings we need to understand this and allow ourselves to be as kind to ourselves as we would want others to be. So many of us have self-defeating tendencies when it comes to self-compassion. There is no shame in that, only love and understanding that we have it all within ourselves to grow.