The Truth about Self-Compassion

The Truth About Self-Compassion

Mindfulness has been having a big moment in the media while self-compassion remains a bit more murky and misunderstood.

Many people have misgivings about the concept of self-compassion because they fear it’s precariously close to narcissism or they can’t conceptualize how it is different from gratitude or simply being present.

 Self-compassion is not just about embracing our experiences – positive or negative. It’s also about embracing the person who is experiencing them (ourselves.)

More than that, self-compassion involves recognition of our oneness with humanity, and acknowledgement that like every other person on Earth, we are imperfect but good enough.

It’s amazing how quickly we can forget this simple truth when things get tough or don’t go our way. We blame ourselves or try to figure out what we could have done differently. We wonder why things don’t go according to plan. 

This creates a situation in which we’re left feeling both isolated and shamed. We compare ourselves to those who we believe could’ve done better and convince ourselves that there are some people in the world that get it and we just don’t.

Here are three truths about self-compassion:

  1. It makes us stronger.

    Many of us tend to fall into the trap of believing that that the only reason we’ve gotten as far as we have is because our self-criticism keeps us in check. In fact the opposite is true: we’ve gotten as far as we have in our lives despite our self- criticism.

    Imagine a child who is working hard in school but still doing poorly. In one scenario her parents say, “Why can’t you do better?” “All your friends are able to get good grades and they don’t try nearly as hard, why can’t you?”

    In the other scenario, the parents say, “I can see how hard you’re trying. Let’s figure out what I can do to help.”

    In the first scenario the child will likely give up trying, lose faith in herself and/or start to resent school. In the other, she maintains her self-confidence, self-worth, and sovereignty.

    A supportive attitude about her shortcoming and encouragement to stretch beyond her current skill set is how she maintains the confidence to keep trying in the face of failure.

    The same is true for us. When we can speak to ourselves with loving kindness, when we can get away from the shame and blame game with ourselves, we give ourselves the motivation and encouragement we need to keep trying. 

  2. Self- compassion is selfless.

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that devoting time and energy to our own well-being, comes at the cost of being of value to somebody else.  In fact the opposite is true. 

    When we’re in the throes of self-flagellation we diminish our own resources. We waste time trying to figure out how to fix our inadequacies, and that’s time that could be spent taking care of ourselves which would then make us available to taking care of others.

    Self-compassion also connects us to others because it allows us to recognize that we’re all in the same boat: we all have strengths and weaknesses. We are all imperfect. This is what make us who we are.

    When we’re shaming ourselves, it’s impossible to connect with our loved ones. We create a wall between us and them — a wall in which our most authentic self is buried deep and becomes inaccessible.

  3. Self- compassion is always available to you.

    Unlike external achievements and accolades that only give us a fleeting moment of self-esteem after we’ve proven ourselves, self-compassion is a tool that’s always available to you with no strings attached.

    It begins with creating a space for your authentic self to come forward and recognizing that there is room for all parts of you– even the ones that are full of shame or fear.

    Like any skill, the more we practice self-compassion, the more accessible and readily available it becomes to us. It begins by noticing the dialogue that’s going on in your mind and acknowledging it. Once you’re aware of it, answer it with loving kindness.

    If you’re not sure where to begin, this mantra may be helpful:

    May I be safe.

    May I be happy.

    May I be healthy.

    May I live with ease. 

Self-compassion allows us to process difficult experiences and by processing them we let go of them. In turn, this more available and open to both giving and receiving love because were coming from a place of love.


About the Author: Amy Beth Acker 

bio-pic-1Amy Beth Acker, LCSW is a counsellor, coach, and writer for women who are living with a perfectionist mindset and ready for a better way. Her clients feel stressed, alone, or stuck in their lives. They look around and constantly feel like they don’t measure up. They feel like they’re both not enough and too much. Their work together offers a place to explore what’s possible in life and to create lasting mindset shifts.

It’s her intention to give women their lives back by teaching them to connect with themselves at a deeper level, find clarity, and change unhealthy thoughts and life patterns.

She provides her clients with the tools they need to start loving and trusting themselves and find direction and flow.

For more of her writing, free guides and worksheets, or to learn more about her services, please visit amybethacker.com, or find her on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest.

 

9 Comments

Nestor

This article is truly amazing and so very powerful. As I read having so many difficulties in my upbringing and growing stronger than ever tears drew in my eyes. I just want to thank you Amy for such insight in your psychological studies of our human ways. You are truly an angel sent from heaven.

Reply
Amy

Hi Nestor!
Thanks for your beautiful words! I’m so glad my article resonated with you and helped shine some insight on past experiences you have had!

Reply
Jasmin Beck

A wonderful article to help one understand how our thinking affects not only ourselves, but others too. Thank you so much for sharing.
Jasmin

Reply
Amy

Yes Jasmine, because we are all connected, our thinking effects more than ourselves! So glad you liked the article!

Reply

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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