Self-compassion has been around for more than two thousand years – but most of us still don’t want it.
We put the needs of others above our own. We punish, criticize, and hate ourselves for our mistakes and foibles. And we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, ones that set us up for failure and make us feel broken. Sounds familiar, huh.
Imagine how you’d feel if you knew a friend or loved one was treating themselves that way. Upset? Sad? Angry? If you truly love them, you wouldn’t want them to mistreat themselves like that, right? And yet, this is the way so many of us relate to ourselves.
It is so much easier for us to have compassion for others than it is to extend that same love towards ourselves.
Why People Reject Self-Compassion
Before we answer the question, let me give you the latest definition of self-compassion.
Self-compassion has three main parts (Neff, 2021):
- Mindfulness (have to notice yourself to be kind to yourself)
- A sense of shared humanity
When we use self-compassion, we are mindfully being aware of our humanness, recognizing that pain and suffering are part of our world and we are all in this together, and extending kindness and love towards ourselves the way that we would another.
Easier said than done for many people. If you are the sort of person who struggles with self-compassion, you are that way for a reason.
For some, self-compassion would clash with their need for self-criticism, which has brought them success through achievement. Criticism creates an intense, motivating discomfort, thus turning people into engines of productivity primed by insecurities and fueled with self-anger. Yet, the engine can only go for so long before burning out.
Some people may refuse self-compassion out of guilt. The belief that you’ve done something horribly wrong, that you are unworthy or broken, can easily block even the slightest twinge of love. The suffering feels like fair payment, a just sentence for one’s badness.
Sometimes, people are so focused on caring for others that they lack the time and energy to be kind to themselves. Rather than reject compassion, they may simply feel that others need it more.
Others may struggle with self-compassion simply because the idea feels so foreign or abstract. What does it mean to be compassionate towards myself? How do I have a relationship with me?
Reasons like these are laced with common myths about self-compassion.
Busting The 4 Myths
According to Kristin Neff, there are four main myths that help explain why people choose not to be self-compassionate:
Myth #1 – Self-compassion is Weak
Some people see self-compassion as a failure or frailty. You might believe that you have to “act tough” and show grit in order to be accepted and have nice things. The toughness can sometimes be worn as a mark of pride, one that even provides a sense of security.
The Truth: Self-compassion takes a great deal of strength, and the research even shows that people who use it are more resilient and able to overcome life’s challenges.
Myth #2 – Self-compassion is Selfish
Rather than give themselves love, some they feel they need to only give it to others. They see those around them as struggling more, needing more, and they believe that practicing kindness and care towards themselves would harm those around them. Self-neglect feels like a noble choice to make.
The Truth: When we are able to practice self-compassion, we actually create more space for taking care of others. Self-compassionate people are more in-tuned with their needs and are better at meeting them than others, which then means that they are less likely to burn out.
Myth #3 – Self-compassion is Self-indulgent
Some see self-compassion as a luxury, one that only the most self-centered and undisciplined people will entertain. They might feel that self-compassion is childish or immature. This is similar to the myth of selfishness in that people worry about how others might see them should they act in a self-compassionate way.
The Truth: Self-compassion is appropriate and healthy for people of all ages. Research has indicated that self-compassion even leads to better health behaviors and improved medical outcomes.
Myth #4 – Self-compassion Kills Motivation
Some people tell themselves that the key to success and overcoming is not by treating oneself with care, but by being harder and less forgiving towards oneself. Self-compassion is seen by them as a risk to one’s success – if I slow down and am good to myself, will I be able to get my work done?
The Truth: Self-compassion not only provides motivation and inspiration, but it reduces the fear of failure. If we know that we can mess up and not hate ourselves, we tend to make choices that are more about getting what we want rather than avoiding what we fear.
Putting Self-Compassion into Practice
Now that you (hopefully) recognize the myths that hold you back from using self-compassion, you might be ready to give it a try. Here is a simple exercise you can do right today:
Think about how you have been acting towards or thinking about yourself lately. Now, imagine that a friend were thinking or acting that same way towards themselves. What might you say or do to help them? When you do this, you are experiencing empathy for their pain – your pain – and taking compassionate action. Consider saying or doing for yourself whatever it was that you might do for your friend.
Of course, there are countless other ways that you can use self-compassion, and not every way works the same for each person. But sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is to ask for help.
Consider working with a therapist who specializes in self-compassion (as is the case with our team here at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy) to act as a guide on your journey towards loving yourself more. You deserve it.