When you make the effort to be more compassionate with yourself, the rewards are far reaching
You’ll feel more compassionate to others
‘When you are more accepting of your own self the whole self, with strengths and weaknesses you will be able to accept others as a whole person as well,’ says Smriti Joshi. You’ll find yourself being less critical or judgmental of other people, as you accept that we are all imperfect.
You’ll be more self-sustainable
Who refills your reservoir when you’re running empty? ‘Maybe you have a supportive team or family that are always there for you, and that’s wonderful,’ says Dr Vanessa Waller, ‘but many people are giving out compassion and not having their reservoir filled.’ It’s great to have a supportive network, but it’s also important to know that you can do that for yourself by being kind, mindful about what’s really going on, and by recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses. ‘You’ll start to realize you can refill your own reservoir and that’s ever so powerful,’ adds Dr Waller.
You’ll feel less scared of failure
Many people think that being tough or shaming yourself into doing something is the only way to make things happen, but you’re much more likely to feel motivated to change if you come from a place of compassion than fear. ‘When your self-esteem crashes because you’ve made a mistake or failed at something which we all do self-compassion will help you see that it’s okay, and you can learn from this experience and change it for next time,’ says Dr Waller
You’ll trust in yourself
When your inner voice is supportive and kind rather than critical and harsh, you’ll start to believe in yourself and your intuition rather than seeking the approval of others. ‘The trust in self can get eroded when you start trying to fit into other people’s boxes to receive validation, and need other people’s approval that you’re worthy of their love and appreciation,’ says Joshi. We often fall into these habits as a survival strategy, but it can lead to you feeling emotionally drained, dissatisfied with yourself, and make it hard to trust others as well.
You’ll be able to manage stress better
When we’re self-critical, our brain perceives ourselves to be under threat and releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The problem is that we can’t escape from the threat because we are both the attacker and the attacked, and the result is that the body eventually shuts down, burns out and we become depressed. When your nervous system is no longer permanently on high alert, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and better able to cope with day-to-day stresses.
You’ll be fierce about self-care
‘The ultimate aim when we think about self-compassion is for optimal health and wellbeing,’ says Dr Waller. She describes it as thinking, ‘What would be good for me right now?’ It might be a walk, to hide in the bath for 15 minutes, a little bit of peaceful time to yourself, and making sure you do it. This is not self-indulgence; it’s about wanting to be healthy and happy in the long-term.
You’ll feel empowered
When you protect yourself by drawing boundaries, and provide for yourself by attending to your needs, you’ll find it gives you a new inner strength. This can provide a motivating force to learn, grow and get out there and change the world.
What will help to grow your self-compassion?
For you, feeling more self-compassionate starts with getting to know yourself. Even emotionally intelligent people can get stuck in ‘doing’ mode, or so focused on others’ needs that they lose touch with what’s going on for them. A red flag is feeling put on the spot when people ask what you think or want. But there’s nothing selfish about getting to know yourself and working out what really matters to you it’s the foundation for forming great relationships with others. It’s okay to look to others for ideas and inspiration, but be aware that comparing yourself and finding yourself lacking will feed self-criticism. It’s time to consciously make space for self-enquiry, and to pay attention to your relationship with you. If most of your time is goal or task-focused, make space for at least one creative project that inspires you and offers you self-expression. It may also help to get into the habit of checking in with how you are feeling throughout the day try setting a timer on your phone to remind you. Resist labeling, analyzing or trying to get rid of what you find just is curious. You may be well aware that the people you care about thrive on attention from you, so why wouldn’t that also be the case for yourself?
Self-acceptance is at the core of self-compassion, but seeing yourself as a work in progress, accepting yourself as you truly are flaws and all can feel risky, as if you’ll never reach your true potential. There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow, learn and be your best self, but true personal development always starts with self-acceptance. And your self-compassion will always be stifled if your feelings come with a mental commentary, telling you that you have no reason to feel unhappy or discontented. Perhaps you also worry that if people knew how you really felt, they wouldn’t like you. It’s no surprise, then, that you may put a lot of effort into changing the way you feel. A journey of self-acceptance may take time, but its transformative effects on self-compassion can be life-changing. Remember, developing your self-compassion and improving your relationship with yourself has the potential to also benefit every relationship in your life. It’s hard to really open up to other people when you have an inner narrative that is undermining. So it’s worth taking time to consider just how self-accepting you are, and how different life could feel if you gave yourself the same validation and empathy you give to others. After all, if the people who love you accept you as you are, can’t you?
Even those who are usually tuned into their feelings can be unaware of how undermining and attacking their inner narrative is. You might not overtly put yourself down, but do you live with re-runs of moments of shame or bad decisions in your head most days however fleeting? Or do you get drawn into mental post-mortems of social events and conversations, or overthinking even minor decisions until you feel confused about what’s really right for you? If that sounds familiar, it may be that lack of self-awareness is stifling your natural self-compassion. It’s often a vicious circle, as it’s hard to become more self-aware without self-compassion. It may be a new phase, the result of a period of imbalance, when you know your daily habits aren’t self-supporting but you’re not yet ready to face up to changing. Could you start by carving out space for some daily stillness and curiosity about the ‘weather pattern’ inside whether that’s through mindfulness, yoga or a walk in nature? Just make sure it doesn’t also become a task to be ticked off a list. If it does, try reducing it to simply pausing throughout the day, taking some calming breaths, and bringing your focus back to the here and now, letting go of the stories your mind is telling you.
Long-term lack of self-belief can mean you live with a constant underlying sense of stress, fuelled by doubts that you can’t cope, or that you’ll make a mess of things. Self-doubt is insidious you may seem outwardly confident but when self-doubt sets in, even simple tasks can feel overwhelming, and you can question your ability to do things you’ve done a million times before. Doubt is fuel for self-criticism, which undermines your self-compassion. Few people have an unshakeable belief that they are good at everything, but when self-doubt robs your peace of mind and takes away your day-to-day enjoyment in life, it’s time to tackle it. Remember, the voice we hear the most is our own, and telling yourself that you ‘can’t cope’, is a form of self-criticism. And if your doubt triggers overthinking, it’s hard to keep perspective on situations, and how much you’re to ‘blame’ when things don’t go to plan. You can’t change the past or what other people think of you, but you can change your relationship with yourself. Your path in life may never be a smooth one, but you know you can keep going. Start by asking, how different would your life be if you decided today that you had everything you need to live a happy, successful life?