You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
We all want better relationships – whether it be with friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, or even people we have yet to meet. I recently heard a story about a workshop being held by Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading psychologist in the field of self-compassion. She directed the large audience to divide into pairs. She asked that one person in each pair close their eyes and the other person leave their eyes open. Then she led a loving kindness meditation directed at the person with closed eyes. The open eyed person was to feel compassion towards their partner while the person with the closed eyes was focusing on compassion for themselves. Then the roles were reversed, and the same meditation was repeated. Once again, the idea was for one person to have compassion for the other while the other person worked on having self-compassion. After this exercise was over, Kristin asked, “How many of you found it harder to feel compassion for yourself than the stranger next to you?” Most in the large audience raised their hands!
My guess is that most of us would have raised our hands also. As a society, we have been encouraged to have compassion for others yet not so much for ourselves. So my question to each of you is – Do you really think you can gain better relationships with others before you improve your relationship with yourself?
If you are really interested in being good with yourself, it is vital to increase your self-compassion. This is the golden path towards truly loving yourself unconditionally. By beating yourself up through criticizing and judging, you remain stuck in self-defeating patterns. If truly honest, would you treat and talk to your best friend the way you treat and talk to yourself?
Self-compassion is a willingness to look at our own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding and embracing the fact that to err and be imperfect is part of our human experience.
Research studies suggest that practicing self-compassion is much richer and rewarding than just practicing self-esteem. Self-esteem is about validating our positive qualities. When focusing on self-esteem, you aren’t really looking at yourself honestly. Self-compassion allows us to be kind to ourselves in the face of difficulties and lovingly acknowledge our vulnerabilities and shortcomings.
As many of you know, I work with the Enneagram. It is a powerful system that consists of 9 personality (ego) structures each of which sees the world in an entirely different way. Every one of us has an ego structure that is our home base and is part of our human experience. We can never lose our ego structure, yet we can understand and work with it so it doesn’t run our lives and cause so much suffering. I am finding that self-compassion is a tremendous tool for this.
Self-compassion helps us in dealing with the ups and downs of our journey, and our quality of life is dependent on enjoying our journey, not waiting till we reach our destination. Studies show that self-compassion also leads to higher levels of well-being, optimism, and happiness and to less anxiety and depression. Also by taking an accepting approach to personal failure can make people more motivated to improve themselves.
According to Dr. Neff in her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, self-compassion consists of three elements:
·Self-Kindness: Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
·Common Humanity: The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.
·Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thought and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.
Neff also states “research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin (a hormone of love and bonding), provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.” So self-compassion may become easier by putting our hand over our heart or giving ourself a hug!
Can you imagine how your life and relationships would be by cultivating more self-compassion?
Cheers to YOU,