Often when the idea of self-compassion is introduced to people, they become uncomfortable. When questioned, they express concern that if they offer themselves self-compassion, they’ll give themselves permission to continue with the same behaviors and attitudes. This misconception needs to be dispelled.
Self-compassion does not mean condoning. In fact, self-compassion entails accepting responsibility for our actions, with kindness and the recognition that none of us are perfect, and that life will throw us curves at times. When we’re able to offer ourselves kindness, we don’t spend time and energy in self-flagellation and are thus better able to focus on the next indicated step. This might mean doing things that aren’t that comfortable in the short run but that move us in the direction of important goals.
For instance, if we’ve been trying to quit smoking, and we slip up and smoke a cigarette, we can go in the direction of self-judgment or self-compassion. Self-judgment might lead us to berate ourselves, saying, “How could I do this?”, “This is terrible”, or “I’m so self-destructive”.
Or we could fall into a spiral of depressive thoughts, such as “Smoking this cigarette proves that I’ll never be able to quit smoking” or “I’m a hopeless case”.
Not a pleasant state of mind. In fact, when we view our actions in this light, we may want to escape our distressing feelings by — you guessed it — smoking another cigarette. Ask yourself — how many times has brutal self-condemnation really helped you to shift in a constructive way?
On the other hand, if we choose the path of self-compassion, we might say to ourselves, “Smoking is a difficult habit to break. Many people don’t quit permanently on their first attempt. Although this is a big challenge, I’m going to persevere, because I care about myself and want to have a healthier lifestyle”.
Offering ourselves kindness, the recognition that other people experience similar hurdles, and the awareness (mindfulness) that we want the best for ourselves means that we’re being accountable while also supporting ourselves. Think about it — wouldn’t you treat a good friend this way? How about extending the same treatment to yourself?
When we face changes in our lives with self-compassion, we recognize that while all of our actions do have consequences, rolling around in the muck of abrasive self-criticism doesn’t help matters. Instead, when we treat ourselves with kindness, we tend to find that we’re a lot easier to be around — and we live with ourselves twenty-four hours a day.