Self Compassion: An Attitude to Live By For a Healthy, Happy Psyche

Artwork by Tom Jones

Artwork by Tom Jones

In the last two decades the buddhist philosophy behind self compassion has started to attract the attention of more and more psychologists as a way of promoting better wellbeing. Psychologist Kristen Neff was the first to operationalise the term self compassion for research purposes, and has compared it to other implements of self-attitude, most notably self-esteem. 

Neff explains that self esteem is built off the comparisons one makes between their own experiences and success, and the evaluation of their self worth based on the standards they set for themselves when making these comparisons, as well as the standards they think others expect of them. While we all know that poor self esteem can be very damaging, you might not know that high self esteem is linked to developing ugly traits like narcissism, downward self comparison (thinking you’re better than those you consider beneath you) and self-centredness. 

By growing self compassion instead of self esteem, Neff found that patients had higher ratings of optimism, wisdom, life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, psychological wellbeing and happiness, as well as lower ratings of social comparison, public self-consciousness and anger. 

Self compassion is first and foremost about self love, and here’s how you can implement it into your own attitude. 

  1. Feed self kindness 

Next time you get a bad grade, notice you’ve put on a few kilos or you need to take a mental health day, notice the way you talk to yourself. If you speak to yourself in a manner that is anything less than how you would speak to someone else you love, its not good enough. When you face shortcomings, practice treating yourself with kindness, understanding and forgiveness. 

  1. Recognise common humanity 

Instead of making comparisons that show you’re better off or worse off than someone else, instead notice the things you have in common, because I can promise you we all have far more similarities than we do differences. Every person in the world has, or will someday, face hardship, heartbreak, sadness, and make mistakes. By recognising common humanity, when you find yourself having a hard time, you’ll find it easier to cope remembering that your experiences do not isolate you from everyone else. 

  1. Practice mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is not as unapproachable and unattainable as it may sound to you. There is no need to cross your legs, say ‘Om’ and float (unless you’re into that). Instead, mindfulness is about maintaining perspective, and it’s as simple as being mindful of your experiences, particularly negative and hurtful ones, without over identifying or fixating on them. All you need is to acknowledge them, and then allow yourself to make peace with what you can and can’t change. 

Hold these steps in mind, and you will find yourself on the path to a happier and healthier psyche everyday.