Self-compassion the path to better relationships with others

Debbi Carberry Adults, Couples, Women

Self-compassion is the buzzword of the day. Research shows that when we show ourselves compassion instead of beating ourselves up there are significant changes to how we view ourselves. Unfortunately today we live in a cultural storm that encourages and embraces self-criticism. It even touts that being hard on yourself is highly motivating. This is not only inaccurate but can be damaging to who we are and how we feel about ourselves. People who show self-compassion feel better about themselves and their lives than those who don’t.

Furthermore, people who are more self-compassionate are more caring and supportive. They tend to feel worthy, are happy, feel authentic and are more able to express their opinions in their relationships. Research shows that self-compassion actually reduces the stress hormone cortisol. The results of research into self-compassion conducted by Dr Neff indicated that individuals with self-compassionate partners were significantly more likely to report being satisfied with their relationship. In addition to this Dr Neff also found that partners of people who were more self-compassionate were also more:

  • Caring (i.e., affectionate, warm, and considerate)
  • Accepting of their partners
  • Inclined to accept their partner’s limitations
  • Likely to compromise in times of relationship conflict

So what is self-compassion and why is it important?

Self-compassion is an action and an attitude in which we accept and embrace ourselves. Being self-compassionate means embracing ourselves for who we are, the good, the bad and everything in-between. It’s important because it doesn’t just improve our feelings toward ourselves but research shows that it also improves the relationships with have with others.

According to Dr. Kristen Neff, there are some core components to self-compassion:

Treating ourselves kindly

So often women will extend empathy out to others and feel completely isolated in their own struggles. We live in a culture that reveres women who appear to do it all, who can be everything to everyone.  We see it in the media, at schools, at work, within our friendship groups as well as in our families.  In my private practice in Brisbane I see women who are worn out and overwhelmed. When they feel like this they tend to withdraw into their own heads listening to the “not good enough” stories they tell themselves.  As we try to be all things to all people we are becoming lost.

Linking in to our common humanity and reminding ourselves that we are trying our best

No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. We are hardwired to connect and it is through relationships with others that we can really feel seen and heard. We are hardwired to connect and to be in relationships.  It is through these attachment systems that we are able to be soothed with love and affection.  The process of loving compassion helps to calm us down, reduce stress and relieve worries. Criticism does the opposite. Those principles hold true whether the love and compassion come from someone else or ourselves. The same is true of criticism.

To be able to be in the present moment and turn toward our own struggle and suffering

As we pause and recognise that we are struggling we need to show ourselves compassion.

Being more understanding and less judgmental about our inadequacies

In our world of social media comparison is rife. Being good enough quite simply is not good enough.  We need to be smarter, richer, more cultured, more artistic, and thinner. Average has become a dirty word. Self-esteem comes down to how we value ourselves in comparison to others.  A lot of parents try to instill self-esteem in their children, praising them often. The problems arise when the praise is linked to comparison with others. What happens when our praise is conditional on comparison is that we develop high self-esteem but low levels of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

That awful internal voice

No matter what kind of parent, person, partner, or colleague they are, many people simply feel like they are not good enough. We are far crueler to ourselves than any other person could ever be. Some of the things women have said to me in sessions include:

  • I’m so stupid
  • I’m so disgusting
  • I’s pathetic
  • I’m lazy
  • I’m ugly
  • I’m a loser

While we may think that beating ourselves up will motivate us to change, we are actually ensuring that negative behavior patterns remain in place. People who criticise themselves relentlessly are likely to find shadow comforts to soothe hurt feelings.

Do you:

  • Beat yourself saying cruel and unhelpful things that deeply wound?
  • Get really anxious or fearful and use activities that help you to escape like food and alcohol?
  • Get stuck in your own head and seem to over-think just about everything so that you are unable to make decisions?
  • Not only talk to yourself in a mean way but also agree with that nasty internal voice?
  • Judge yourself far more harshly that you would any other person?

To counter these thoughts try using the following phrase; 

“I’m noticing I’m telling myself the story that I am …”

By beginning to “notice” what your inner voice is telling you, you not only stop it in its track, but you put some emotional distance between the instinctive need to beat yourself up and the capacity to choose an alternative narrative like “I’m doing my best right now”.

So if you find that you are being highly critical of yourself slow down and notice the stories that are running through your head. Then try being kind and compassionate to yourself. There are more than enough reasons to practice self-compassion.

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Until next time ..