Self-compassion. What does this word calls to mind? Perhaps you associate it with an hazy looking lady in a long dress who’s just fine with everything, or rather, with someone who cares a little too much about himself? There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about what self-compassion actually means. To deepen some understanding on this topic, this piece is largely about what self-compassion doesn’t mean.
According to Neff (2003) self-compassion consists of 3 elements: kindness, shared humanity and mindfulness. These can be used to combat the unholy trinity (Gerner, 2009), which consists of: self-criticism, self-isolation, and identifying with the story of suffering. Using self-compassion, you can be present in the face of unpleasant feelings, without exaggerating or ignoring them, but feeling and recognizing what’s happening to you. Observe feelings you have, not be them, and thereby create space to act on it in a healthy way.
Self-compassion does not mean: Self-pity
It does not mean dwelling in your own misery, letting you be flooded by your own drama story and crawling in a helpless victim’s role, convinced you’re the only one that has such a hard time. Self-compassion means recognizing the commonality of shared human suffering and thereby emphasizing a sense of attachment. This creates room for clarification of your situation, and therefore, to take action against it.
It does not mean that you avoid responsibility for your behavior or externalize it. Self-compassion makes sure that you can acknowledge your mistakes, because it provides a safe environment for being human, and therefore to make mistakes. By approaching yourself kindly and thus also the mistakes you make, it gets easier to acknowledge them, to accept the consequences, and to learn from your mistakes.
“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”
Being too easy-going
It does not mean that you have no limits and that you can do whatever you want, but to take care of yourself and do what is best for you. If you ask yourself, “Does this hurt me in the long run?”, then you’ll understand quickly what’s right for you. Self-compassion can therefore help to prevent you to be too easy-going, because you can choose for what’s best for you, instead for what’s easy.
It does not mean that you put yourself above others, but that you treat yourself just as dear as you treat others. Self-compassion combats self-criticism and therefore egocentrism, because self-criticism makes us focus too much on ourselves and our shortcomings. So you ensure that what you need is not above, but also not subordinate to the needs of others.
It does not mean the same as self-appreciation or high self-image, as you determine those partly by comparing it to others. If you do not perform well, your high self-image can get a damaging blow. So that doesn’t have a lot to do with self-compassion, wherein you can appreciate your strengths at all times and be grateful for them.
Being a pushover
It does not mean that you behave yourself like a soft boiled egg, being pushed over all the time. It just means that you can say “no” out of love and protection for yourself, and clearly set boundries. Sometimes we must be clear and strict to others, but also to ourselves, to prevent or stop self-destructive behavior.
It does not mean that it’s best to do whatever you do, that you don’t have any ambitions because each trace of self-criticism is missing. However, it is a misconception that self-criticism is the best source of motivation, it even relates to procrastination and underperformance. Self-criticism often motivates people based on anxiety, self-compassion motivates us based on love. By encouraging yourself in a constructive way, not personally attacking yourself for every mistake and failure, but addressing your behavior, you’ll create a safe space for growth.