Last week, I discussed the topic of perfectionism. This week, I am going to discuss perfectionism’s nemesis and antidote, self-compassion…
Self-compassion is a concept that was developed by Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Self-compassion is the practice of being unconditionally kind to oneself despite one’s imperfections and shortcomings. It is acknowledging the fact the we are all in the same boat in that we’re all coming up short in some way. Self-compassion is embracing this notion of shared humanity and humility and seeing the true beauty in it.
For some people, when they hear this, they immediately have the concern that self-compassion means being too easy on yourself… But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Self-compassion also encompasses being real with yourself AND constructive and encouraging. Self-compassion is NOT letting yourself off the hook. For example, let’s say you binge eat 2 large pizzas by yourself. Self-compassion is NOT telling yourself, “Oh, it’s ok. I love myself anyway.” Self-compassion is telling yourself, “I love myself anyway AND I want a healthier life for me because I deserve it. I am going to eat healthier so I don’t slowly kill myself.”
Another concern people commonly have about self-compassion is that self-compassion = selfishness. This also couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many people struggle with an imbalance of caretaking—that is, many people tend to take care of others more than they take care of themselves, leading to a great deal of burnout and health problems. However, research indicates that when we take care of ourselves, we actually care for others more effectively and authentically. I can vouch for this with my own personal experience, but don’t take my word for it. I encourage you to use your own experience as evidence. When YOU take care of yourself and your batteries are recharged on a regular basis, is it easier or harder for you to take care of others? It just makes sense. So don’t buy into the limiting belief that self-compassion is selfish.
Self-compassion has many benefits. There is a great body of research supporting self-compassion in enhancing resilience, well-being, motivation, productivity, self-esteem, and more. Yet, we struggle to engage in self-compassion. Self-compassion takes hard work and building effortful habits!
Why is this? Well, we are wired to have a negative bias in our thinking. When you are walking in the woods, how important is it that you are able to tell the difference between a snake and a stick? This is why the negative bias exists within us. It helps us determine threat quickly for survival purposes. But we unfortunately tend to apply this process to our sense of well-being and sense of self. We are wired to pay more attention to our shortcomings and flaws and, instead of viewing them with mindful constructiveness, we view them with shame and fear that others will find us out. The negative bias is natural. Working against the negative bias takes effort.
So how do we work against this negative bias and practice self-compassion?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Self-compassion for me may look very different than self-compassion for you. For me, self-compassion is giving myself affirmations, accepting compliments from others, recounting what I accomplished during the day versus what I did not accomplish, carving out times of solitude multiple times per week, reading personal growth books, and eating a little chocolate-something once per day. I could list so much more… It has taken me years to discover the plethora of ways I can be self-compassionate.
Other self-compassion practices include self-compassion meditations (e.g., meditating on your strengths and aspirations). Dr. Neff has great, free self-compassion meditations online that you can find with Google. There are also self-compassion yoga practices. It is also helpful to journal to yourself from the perspective of a kind friend who cares for you unconditionally. If you are a person of faith, view yourself with the unconditional love that God has for you. Practice empathy with your shortcomings in a way that builds you up and motivates you to keep working toward your values and goals.
In reading this, you might think these small acts seem… well… small… and even insignificant. But these small acts truly add up and make a huge difference in well-being and stress-management. Take it from someone who has lived life with and without self-compassion. Stress is almost impossible to manage if you are not kind and gracious with yourself on a regular basis. Furthermore, if you are a perfectionist or recovering perfectionist, self-compassion is the only antidote.
Self-compassion is a courageous act. This week (and for the rest of your life!), I encourage you to practice at least one self-compassionate act each day. Just like any new habit, this might be difficult at first, especially if you have an ingrained habit of being hard on yourself, but it gets easier and more natural over time with practice.
Until next time,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of imperfection. Center City, Minnesota: Brene Brown.
Neff, Kristin. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.