Do you tell people, maybe your children, You are special. You are smart. You are amazing? Do you send yourself similar messages? But, wait! These lines are not necessarily the best for anyone’s development of healthy self-esteem, confidence, compassion or self-compassion.
Believing You are smart, may be true or not. Numerous and recent research projects indicate that intelligence is not the main indicator of success nor happiness. Plus, it belies the fact that most of us have an average intelligence. That’s what the Wechsler Intelligence Scale indicates. Most us are normal, average human beings! That doesn’t mean we can not do exceptional acts.
Believing You are special (or amazing) can encourage narcissism, a sense of privilege, and arrogance. No one is more special than another. Of course, most of us are special to a special loved one or loves.
Regrettably, the self-esteem movement went sideways when many parents began to use these expletives of perfection in a culture filled with competitiveness. They falsely placed the receiver at the top of the human race hierarchy. So, instead of building ourselves and others up with perfectionistic cliches what are the alternatives?
The two main messages that build healthy self-esteem and self-concept are:
1) You are lovable and
2) You are capable.
The first declaration requires no performance. All babies are lovable just the way they are. And we stay lovable. The second statement, You are capable, requires a journey to discover our gifts, passions and strengths. And then we need a willingness to use those gifts to make a meaningful difference. Most of us desire some sense of life purpose.
And of course, I add, You are resilient as we can all benefit from the ability to bounce back from life’s challenges.
As human beings we will make errors. In order for us to bounce back from those errors we need a dose of, guess what? Yes, compassion for both ourselves and others. We need to let one another off the hook of the perfection trap.
Self-Compassion and Compassion are the Answer
The Cambridge Dictionary define compassion as
a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them.”
The Oxford dictionary used the word pity to mean compassion. I didn’t like that. Who wants to be pitied? I would like us to substitute the word empathy in the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition for sympathy. I prefer to think of compassion as having empathy for other people’s pain and misfortune.
Children suffer around the world of verbal, physical and sexual abuse plus neglect. Then there are in countries who practice child-labor and child-marriages. We instinctively compassion for those children. But too often we forget those children often grow into angry, defensive, controlling, depressed, anxious or addicted adults. Some have the privilege and resources to access therapy or some other healing experience. Others are merely and tragically doing their best.
Some may find solace in reading books such as the compassion researcher, Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. She suggests we practice the ability to think and act kindly towards ourselves. However, for some of us the idea of self-compassion may be difficult. To sit still with empathy while in our emotional pain may seem impossible.
Neff proposes that how we attempt to boost self-esteem, as described above, can indeed become problematic. She points out that if we use comparisons to boost our worth, self-esteem becomes a competitive race. We then are repeatedly attempting to be and do one better than others. And when we do not find ourselves at the top, we view ourselves as less-than and unworthy.
What Self-Compassion Can Do for You
Here is what self-compassion can do for you. It can help you look at yourself and others as merely human. With increased self-compassion comes self-acceptance of our weaknesses, mistakes and personality flaws. Doing so results in increased self-responsibility. We can tell ourselves, “Yes, I made a mistake that hurt others. I will forgive myself and make amends.”
Those with well developed self-compassion embrace their inner critic. They do not fear it. They view the inner-critic with resilience and engage in dialogue with the snarly voice inside.
Deepen your self-compassion by treating yourself like a compassionate, caring and kind parent. Here are some tips to help.
Eight Tips to Deepen Your Self-Compassion
- Protect yourself from others who are not kind, supportive, and compassionate. If you have repeated conflict with a loved one seek therapy yourself and/or go together.
- If you live with someone who abusive, put a strategy in place to leave. Ask for help from a domestic violence shelter.
- Regularly, do something kind and comforting for yourself. Take a bubble bath, nap or eat a bowl of tapioca pudding.
- From a compassion adult part, develop some loving self-talk. Tell yourself, “You are lovable. You can do it. You deserve a rest.”
- Befriend the part of you that is the protector, defender or critic. It helped you survive abuse. Acknowledge that part of you. “Awe, I hear you. In the past you helped me cope. I wasn’t safe. I had no control or choice. I am safe now. I can make choices that nourish me.”
- When you do not want to do something that is ultimately healthy for you, arrange to give yourself a reward after
- Talk about and celebrate your accomplishments and, some days, celebrate that you got out of bed.
His Holiness, The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
What do you do to practice self-compassion?