Valentine’s Day can be over hyped and commercialized. Some people see Valentine’s Day as a day to give gifts, while others view it as a reminder of broken hearts or unclear relationships. For those who choose to celebrate, it’s a chance to acknowledge love in all its forms.
We’re exploring the meaning of love this Valentine’s Week by looking at our relationships with ourselves. Like other types of love, self-love is something we develop and practice. It can also be cultivated through self-compassion. Self-compassion is a gift that brings about positive changes in our mental and physical health. This is something to celebrate during this season of love.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion means the ability to love, understand, and accept yourself. It requires that we give ourselves the same care as a friend.
Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, describes self-compassion in three key elements – common humanity, mindfulness and self-kindness.
- Our common humanity: We acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and suffers from negative experiences. Our imperfections are what connects us.
- Mindfulness: When we are open and curious about negative thoughts and feelings, instead of suppressing them or ignoring them, mindfulness is what we call it. These thoughts and feelings are just that–thoughts and feelings.
- Self-kindness: We show kindness to ourselves and avoid self-blame. We support ourselves with understanding, compassion, forgiveness, patience, and support.
Self-compassion has many benefits.
1. Happier lives
There are many ways that you could complete the sentence “I’ll Be Happy When.” . .”. Once I am in a relationship. If I am promoted. When I move to another city, buy that house, or go on vacation. Too often, we view happiness as conditional–something we achieve through external events and goods. We believe that if and when these things are achieved, we will be happy.
These conditions can positively impact our lives, but they cannot determine our happiness. For that, we need to look within.
Although it’s not always easy or comfortable, happiness is often a choice. We constantly practice making a choice, guided by inner work. Self-compassion is a way to do this. Research has shown that compassionate people are happier than those who are not.
2. Stronger resilience
Self-compassion can also influence how we view ourselves and respond to life’s challenges. We respond more flexibly to stressful and upsetting situations if we treat ourselves with kindness. We develop resilience as we develop self-compassion.
Self-compassion helps us overcome setbacks and triggers a growth mindset. People who have a growth mindset rather than a fixed one are more inclined to accept challenges, learn from others, and develop their talents and potential.
3. Motivation increases
In our “no pain no gain” culture, self-inflicted stress or struggle is often seen as a motivator. Because we are afraid of becoming lazy, we beat ourselves up in the hustle and bustle of life, school, work, and daily life. Neff says that the greatest barrier to self-compassion lies in fear of complacency, laziness, and self-indulgence. Self-love is often associated with being weaker, less ambitious, and soft. Therefore, we tend to judge ourselves harshly and criticize ourselves instead.
Research shows that self-compassion is more motivating than self-criticism. Higher levels of self-compassion are more likely to be motivated to achieve their goals. They are more focused on improving and will invest their energy in that pursuit than compare themselves to others. This can ultimately result in decreased motivation.
4. Improved mental and physical health
Self-compassion is also associated with better mental and physical health. It is linked to improved immune function, glucose levels in diabetics, and relaxation. One study showed that self-compassion exercises resulted in higher parasympathetic activity among participants. This promoted stress reduction and emotion regulation at a physiological level.
Research has also shown that lower self-compassion levels are associated with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Self-compassion for eating disorder recovery
It’s not surprising that most people with eating disorders lack self-compassion. Self-criticism is a common symptom of the range of eating disorders. In recovery, self-compassion is introduced to help with this antidote.