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Posted by Karen in Benefits of Life Coaching

Self-compassion – a road to greater resilience?

Do you struggle to say ‘no’ sometimes, worried what others may think of you? Do you find you often take someone’s disappointment so personally that it feels like they’re rejecting you, that they no longer like you? Do you then beat yourself up about the situation?

Consider this for a moment. You’re explaining to a good friend that you’ve been asked to do something by someone but you have too much on and you need to say ‘no’. No doubt your friend would tell you not to worry and would support and understand your decision. They’d show you kindness and understanding.

Why is it that so many of us struggle to offer the same empathy and understanding to ourselves?

For a number of years I’ve followed the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering self-compassion researcher, author, and teacher, so I was delighted to get the chance to hear her talk about her work at an Action for Happiness event this July in London. What I found most interesting was how she explained the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem, as over the years I’ve worked with many clients who come saying: ‘I have low-self-esteem and I want to feel more confident about myself, about work, about life in general.’

I teach them the power of self-compassion. It’s been transformative for so many.

What is self-compassion and how is it different from self-esteem?

Firstly, compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’. It’s our ability to recognise, to be aware when someone is in emotional pain, when someone has a tough time and to then offer them warmth, kindness, a listening ear or a helping hand. Self-compassion is exactly that but offering that friendly, warm and understanding attitude to ourselves rather than judging or criticising ourselves harshly.

Where self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, our perceived value, or how much we like or don’t like ourselves, and is contingent on our current circumstances, our latest successes and failures; self-compassion, by contrast, is not dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available, especially when we find ourselves in a difficult or painful situation. What’s more, we don’t have to feel as good as or better than others to feel good about ourselves. Self-compassion allows for personal failings to be acknowledged with kindness and understanding.

Self-compassion is not dependent on self-evaluation, comparing ourselves to others (which can lead to self-absorption, a lack of motivation and even depression) but instead comes from an understanding that each person is a human being deserving compassion and understanding, not because they have some particular traits (pretty, clever, multi-talented, intelligent etc).

The power of self-compassion – treating yourself as you would a good friend

By practising self-compassion we can turn the enemies in our head into friends.

People who are compassionate to themselves are much more likely to be happy, resilient, optimistic and motivated to change themselves and their lives for the better. When our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend (not a continual critic)- we can — when we notice some personal failing — feel safe and accepted enough to both see ourselves clearly and make the changes needed to be healthier and happier. Dr. Kristin Neff

I’ve been working with a client whose wellbeing i.e. how she feels in herself, depends on others’ responses. I’ve been helping her to be more self-compassionate, particularly in those moments when she wants to say ‘no’ to something.

kettle kristen quoteRather than needing others’ understanding for her ‘no’, she is now learning more and more to understand herself, her need to say ‘no’ to something at times, and that it is okay to do so, that people may be disappointed with her saying ‘no’ but that their disappointed is theirs, and that it doesn’t mean that they don’t like her anymore. The wonderful thing is that she has been more able to bear the discomfort of saying ‘no’, of being honest with others, because she has been learning to understand and to reassure herself.

A path to greater emotional resilience?

Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behaviour, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.

What was also interesting was that research shows that there is only a very weak link between being compassionate to others and self-compassion, i.e. we can be compassionate towards others without necessarily being self-compassionate. The thing is, however, the more we are able to be kind with ourselves, the longer we can sustain compassion for others. In practising self-compassion, ‘we fill up our own tank’ with goodness, with warmth, understanding, friendliness, support. And the fuller our own tank is, the happier, the more resourceful we are, and the more we can offer compassion to others over a sustained period of time.

I’ll sign off with a link to one of my favourite self-compassion exercises. The self-compassionate break (from Kristin Neff).

And if you’re curious to see self-compassionate you are, take the self-compassion questionnaire.

I score 3.8 of 5 which means I’m moderately self-compassionate. So I have more work to do. I could beat myself up for only being moderately self-compassionate (rather than highly self-compassionate) but these days I can catch myself and not go down that downward spiral. Instead, I can see my progress because only a few years ago I would probably have scored somewhere between 1-2.

As always, let me know how you are getting on or if you need a little help, why not book a free 30-minute coaching taster session with me?

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