Stay Sane With Self Compassion
By Sherika Tenaya
Is it just me or is it getting easier and easier to feel crappy about your life these days?
Thanks to the social media revolution, we’re constantly inundated with countless images and posts of so-and-so’s perfectly crafted home cooked meals, storybook in-love couples staring into each other’s eyes dreamily, the perfect body of that bendy yoga teacher friend of yours, and all those perfectly captured moments that everyone but you seems to be having.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that sometimes gets a sense of “what am I doing wrong” after a particularly extensive scroll-through. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a confident woman who finds happiness in others’ successes, but even I experience a sense of not-enoughness that is, at times, spiritually crippling.
The lure of comparison is a cruel and vindictive foe and, despite my highest intentions, more often than not I find myself Instagramming myself into Insta-Criticism OF myself.
And let’s face it, that’s just not healthy. What’s even MORE unhealthy is the negative mental pattern that happens afterward: beating myself up for not being perfect in every way like everyone else seems to be. I start TWEETing myself (get it?) like I’m the world’s biggest loser and worst decision maker, complete with an alarming lack of discipline coupled with a woefully inherent lapse in motivation.
And then I feel bad that I feel bad when I SHOULD feel happy for all my friends and family who are living their dreams. Sound familiar? Mmmmm-hmm.
So what’s the solution for the social media woebegone? Self-compassion.
Self-compassion, or SC, as defined in the fantastically articulated article “The Self-Compassion Solution” by Marina Krakovsky published in Scientific American Mind, is described as “treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would a friend.”
That same cutting inner voice that demands to know why my home cooked meals look like roadkill would never impose such ugly comments on my best friend. Yet SC, according to this article, has two other “indispensable elements” noted by psychologist Kristin D. Neff that make it a concept worth noting.
First, that one pay honest, accepting attention to one’s suffering/shortcomings in a mindful, nonobsessive way and secondly, that one recognize that one’s sufferings/frailties are a part of the human experience rather than unique to oneself.
So, yes, even those shiny superstars of Snapchat experience lows, they just don’t post about it.
Further, Neff found a way to measure SC in people using a simple, scalable survey and discovered that those who embodied it were less prone to anxiety and depression.
Why? For one, SC helps ease the emotional ups and downs of “contingent self-esteem”, where one’s valuation of oneself is based on outward approval from others. Additionally, when we hold ourselves to intense standards that invoke our Inner Critic, we focus all our emotional energy on how flawed we are and berating ourselves rather than putting that energy towards the real issue which might be, for example, that what we think we want and what we really want are two different things. SC, with its all-important mindfulness component, leads us to acknowledge and accept our reality without attaching an emotional judgment. This, in turn, allows for increased psychological resilience and an almost superhuman ability to regain emotional equilibrium after adversity.
That I can understand, but what about motivation? If I just accept myself as I am, couldn’t that be a trap of complacency that engenders mediocrity?
To this, Krakovsky describes a series of experiments done at the University of California, Berkeley by psychologist Juliana Breines in which she and her colleagues had 86 undergraduates take an uber-challenging vocabulary quiz. To see the effect of SC on study behavior, they divided the students into three categories: the first group, in the spirit of SC, were told that it was common to find the test difficult and not to be too hard on themselves; the second group got a self-esteem message “Try not to feel bad about yourself - you must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley”; the third group, as a control, received no statements at all. The researchers measured how long the students studied for a second, similarly difficult test. The SC group spent 33 percent more time studying for the second quiz than the self-esteem group and 51 percent longer than the control group.
So why the increase in motivation? Being kind, yet realistic, to yourself about your failure encourages you to try again and turns failure into a tool, not a personal trait.
Another beautiful aspect of SC, unlike self-esteem, is that it is much easier to cultivate and increase as a regular practice because it’s entirely directed by you. Even if you have chronic low self-esteem, practicing SC can act as a buffer against it, taking away its power over your mental health.
If this idea resonates for you, there are a variety of ways to cultivate your own SC. Psychologist Kristin Neff offers a variety of workshops around the country designed for the public. If a workshop seems like a lot, you can also find specific exercises to do from the comfort of your own home on Neff’s website.
Judging yourself harshly for perceived inadequacies breeds discontent that can eventually foster denial in an attempt to spare your ego. Rather, examine yourself with unflinching honesty and lighthearted objectivity and, from there, you might reach higher next time. Be kind to yourself and embrace your struggle and journey, recognizing that we all struggle with our respective journeys, no matter how many “likes” we may have.