What is self-compassion and why is it such a hard thing to do?

The concept of self-compassion sounds easy enough, but for some people it’s difficult to do.  Most people have heard of the saying “you are your own worst critique” meaning it’s easier to find a minute mistake in our achievements, career, study, relationships, appearance, body image or financial status rather than compliment ourselves for an achievement.  If this sounds like you, then keep reading and find out about the first step to building self-compassion.

Why is it hard to have self-compassion?

If self-compassion is something you find hard to do, here are some reasons why this happens;

  • Early Life Experiences: Due to limited experiences of nurturing and care whilst young this can lead to an underdeveloped self-soothing system. The ability to self sooth is stimulated by having compassionate experiences which is the reason why it’s challenging to have self-compassion when it is something you have never been taught. 
  • The Threat System: The brain is wired to protect ourselves from threats so seeing the negatives of situations is something our brain does to protect us from danger.  This means having self-compassion isn’t something that comes naturally and it may at first feel uncomfortable and to have self-compassion you have to override our instincts. 
  • Lack of awareness: Some people may not be aware of how self-critical they are and being kind to ourselves may not have been considered as an option.

Why is self-compassion important?

Having self-compassion is valuable and here are some reasons why;

  • Mental health and wellbeing benefits: Research has shown that people who tend to be more self-compassionate are less likely to have depression, anxiety and stress. When we are self-compassionate the hormone oxytocin which is known as the ‘feel good’ hormone is released and gives us a sense of calmness. 
  • Balancing our emotions: Experiences of kindness and care stimulate the soothing system. Receiving compassion from others is one way to activate the soothe system and self-compassion is another way.
  • Common humanity: Understanding we’re not alone in our mistakes, weakness and failures helps us normalise mistakes and understand they are a normal part of everyone’s life.
  • Fosters resilience: Self-compassion increases motivation, boosts happiness, enhances self-worth which helps give us the resilience to get through our life challenges.

Bringing awareness to your self-criticism.

Self-criticism is something I think we are all guilty of at one time or another. Some common examples of self-critical statements include;

  • I never do things right
  • I am hopeless
  • I can’t do tis
  • I am useless
  • I am a moron.
  • I’m such an idiot.
  • I should have known this would happen.

As you can see these comments stem from some common unhelpful thinking styles like, overgeneralising, labelling and ‘should’ statements.  If some of these statements sound familiar to you then you may need to bring some awareness to why and where these self-criticisms are coming from by asking yourself these questions;

What do you criticise yourself for?

What are things you say to yourself when you are self-critical?

Has someone else said these critical statements to you before?

How do you feel when you are self-critical?

What are the negative consequences when you are criticising yourself?

Bringing awareness to your self-criticism is the first step to building self-compassion.  In my next article I will be talking more about techniques to practice self-compassion.

 Written by:

Kimberley Aguet – Virtual Psychologist, Counsellor