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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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