Being hard on ourselves is, for many people, a default way of responding to our perceived failings. We think that by being critical of our actions, our looks or even our thoughts we will be able to motivate ourselves to be better – better people, better parents, better friends, better students. What the research shows, however, is that being critical of ourselves has the opposite effect and is actually more likely to result in feelings of anxiety, depression and lowered self-worth. Although self-criticism comes quite naturally to people, self-compassion has been linked to greater well-being, more effective coping skills and greater compassion for others.
So what is compassion? And more importantly, how do we do it? When we feel compassion for others, we feel kindness and warmth toward them as well as a deep desire to help reduce their suffering. When we feel compassion for ourselves we create a similar space – one that is free of judgement, a space that recognises our pain and struggle and meets those experiences with kindness and care. It is when we are in this space that research shows we are at our greatest level of functioning – even our immune system is improved!
Being compassionate to ourselves and our suffering might feel unnatural, and even frightening, at first but with practice and patience self-compassion can become a valuable tool. Here are five quick tips on being kind to yourself.
- Be aware of your thoughts. Often we don’t even notice when we are being critical of ourselves, it just comes naturally. Instead of being on auto-pilot, try to pay attention – notice why you criticise yourself, how you speak and the words you use. When you’ve noticed the language you use with yourself you can start to soften it.
- Think about how you’d treat someone else. Imagine a friend or family member came to you in pain. What would you say? How would you treat them? What words would you use with them? It is unlikely that you would be critical and harsh right? See if you can direct the same feelings and words to yourself.
- Acknowledge the pain. This is about validating your experience rather than trying to push it away. It is not about getting stuck in self-pity or wallowing, but rather about acknowledging to yourself ‘this is painful’. When you are able to acknowledge suffering you are in a better place to let it go.
- Use a physical gesture. When a loved one is in pain we often reach out to hold their hand, hug them, or give them a squeeze. It might feel strange, but doing the same thing to ourselves can help to encourage a space of kindness. These types of gestures also have a chemical reaction in our bodies and have been proven to help to calm us down. Putting your hand over your heart, holding your own hand, or even squeezing your own arm are all examples of soothing touch.
- Forgive yourself. You are human, you are imperfect, you are ok.
360 Health + Community have a team of mental health professionals all over the state who can help you with a range of mental health concerns. Give us a call on 1300 706 922 or visit 360.org.au to find out more and book an appointment.
Mental Health Clinician
360 Health + Community