The benefits of self-kindness
24th January 2022
The good news is that you can be kind to yourself, and achieve more, increase your wellbeing and feel more positive. A win-win! You don’t have to be self-critical to succeed.
Evidence is increasing of the benefits of treating ourself kindly and with compassion, rather than being driven by an internal critic.
Research* has shown multiple benefits of self-kindness including
• Being more likely to adopt healthy behaviours for example exercising and a good diet, leading to improved overall health and wellbeing
• More effective responses to stressful situations in daily life
• Demanding less perfectionism of ourself
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is treating ourself with the same kindness that we treat others (Neff, 2011). The model Neff developed, which is used almost exclusively in research, breaks self-compassion down into six factors, divided between those that show kindness towards ourself, and those that are cold or unkind.
Self-kindness means showing care and understanding towards ourselves. It is accepting ourselves and offering ourselves comfort when we need it. This doesn’t mean we accept things about ourselves we want to change, or which cause us difficulty, it about approaching this from a place of kindness, rather than being critical and judgemental about perceived inadequacies.
Common humanity is about recognising that we all make mistakes and fail sometimes. We are not alone in this. It is acknowledging that humans are not perfect and that we share human experiences. It is feeling connected to others, even when facing a personal struggle. It is also about not feeling alone in our difficulties, with the distorted perspective that everyone else is coping and happy.
Mindfulness is being present and balanced in our awareness, having space for a non-judgemental and objective perspective. This contrasts with over-identification when we get so caught up in our negative thoughts and emotions our ability to think clearly is restricted.
What is misunderstood about self-compassion?
Generally, we are brought up with the message to think of others. Social pressures and expectations mean we tend to put others first, believing it is the right thing to do.
There is a fear that being kind to ourselves will seem selfish and indulgent, and these are behaviours we feel guilty about demonstrating.
I have also often heard the concern that it could mean letting ourselves ‘off the hook’ when things go wrong rather than learning from mistakes or improving.
Why self-criticism isn’t an effective strategy
The evidence clearly shows driving ourself through judgement is flawed thinking. Those that are compassionate towards themselves achieve more, but from a place of kindness and self-worth, rather than criticism.
For example, numerous studies* have shown the benefits of self-compassion in relation to mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. Those demonstrating self-compassion had a lower incidence of these illnesses, with the oppositive also found, i.e. those who were self-critical experienced higher levels*.
Try this exercise
There are many interventions and exercises that can help build self-compassion. This is a quick practical exercise which helps me recognise when I am not showing compassion towards myself. Try it.
- When something doesn’t go to plan for example you forget something or make an error at work, notice how you talk to yourself. Notice the exact language you use.
- Ask yourself if you would speak to someone else in the same way.
- Take the same scenario and consider how you would respond if a friend or colleague had the same issue. Notice the language you use.
- Now, use this awareness to reframe how we talk to yourself, offering kindness rather than judgement, recognise these things happen to people – it isn’t just you, and notice the emotion rather than getting swept up in it.
Try listening to this kinder voice and see what differences you notice.
Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: Overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13(6), 353–379. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.507
Longe, O., Maratos, F. A., Gilbert, P., Evans, G., Volker, F., Rockliff, H., & Rippon, G. (2010). Having a word with yourself: Neural correlates of self-criticism and self-reassurance. NeuroImage, 49(2), 1849–1856. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.09.019
Magnus, C. M. R., Kowalski, K. C., & McHugh, T. L. F. (2010). The role of self-compassion in women’s self-determined motives to exercise and exercise-related outcomes. Self and Identity, 9(4), 363–382. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860903135073
MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). MacBeth , A ., and Gumley , A . ( 2012 ) Exploring compassion : a meta- analysis of the association between self-compassion and. 32(November), 545–552.
Neff, K. D., & Pommier, E. (2013). The Relationship between Self-compassion and Other-focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Practicing Meditators. Self and Identity, 12(2), 160–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2011.649546
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