Embrace self-compassion by learning to treat yourself as you would treat your best friend
By Jumol Royes
Your buddy is blaming himself for a bad breakup and is feeling depressed and rejected. Or maybe he’s struggling in his new job and is worried about making a good impression on the boss. Do you respond with criticism and judgment by telling him he’s not good enough and that he needs to be perfect at all costs? Of course not. What he needs most is compassion, and that is what you offer. So why is it so difficult to extend that same compassion to ourselves?
As a gay man of colour, I know many of us in the LGBT community struggle with feelings of unworthiness. While we can be quick to offer support and build up others, we can then turn around and be just as quick to beat ourselves up and tear ourselves down. We tend to get so focused on our faults, failings and shortcomings that we forget to show ourselves some much-needed TLC. In a society where everyone is vying to be above average and aiming to always be on point, it’s inevitable that from time to time, we’re going to miss the mark. We’re human, after all. It’s how we treat ourselves in these difficult moments that makes all the difference.
This is where self-compassion comes in. It frees us from the need to be perfect or to fit some unattainable ideal (we can’t all be Nick Jonas), and allows us to accept—and perhaps even celebrate—our imperfections.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field and an associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin, has researched and identified the three core components of self-compassion. When faced with stressful situations, these strategies help remind us to treat ourselves as we would a good friend
Neff defines mindfulness as taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. You acknowledge the fact that you’re going through a tough time without getting overly attached to the uncomfortable feelings that arise. You’re hurting. You feel stressed out. You just want to curl up under the covers and binge-watch The Real Housewives… and that’s ok.
You’re not alone
As the line in the poem by John Donne goes, “No man is an island.” According to Neff, common humanity means recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience. You’re not the only one in pain, though it may feel like that in the moment. Everyone faces challenges and adversity in life—no one is immune. It’s not just you. We’re all on this journey together. Being imperfect is what makes us human.
Show yourself some kindness
Self-kindness asks that we be warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism, explains Neff. Be gentle and kind with yourself, and silence the negative self-talk. You’re good enough just the way you are. Sure, you’re not perfect. Nobody is. But you are deeply and completely loved. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
The key to practising self-compassion is simple: if you wouldn’t say it to your BFF, why on earth would you say it to yourself?
Jumol Royes is a Toronto-based PR and communications strategist with a keen interest in personal development and transformation. Follow him on Twitter at @Jumol.