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3 Reasons to Start Practicing Self-Compassion

Union Square Practice therapist & performance coach, Liv Massey, defines self-compassion as “turning inwards the same kindness you would give someone that you care deeply about.” Self-compassion is a critical component of a healthy mind and spirit, but how exactly does it enhance our overall wellbeing? Here we outline three principal reasons why self-compassion is such an important muscle to flex:

As human beings, we all have a negative bias. – Evolutionarily speaking, we have a negative bias, because at a base level, if we fail to recognize a predator or a threat to our survival, we would die. What this survival genesis has created is that our brains are actually wired more to see the things that are wrong around us and about ourselves rather than the things that are right. While the upside may be physical survival, the downside is a negative mental autopilot that we often struggle to recognize. However, one of the three main pillars of self-compassion is mindfulness, which is a tool we can use to fight that autopilot and be more aware of what is actually happening in the present moment, specifically with our thoughts and feelings. Being more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and working to have a more balanced perspective, allows us to let those thoughts and feelings come and go.

When things get really bad, self-esteem isn’t there for you. Self-compassion is. – While self-compassion is a great skill to practice in all facets of life, it becomes most important when we are suffering. It is very common to confuse and relate self-compassion with self-esteem, when in fact self-esteem is more of a close cousin. While positive relationships, sports, and activities build self-esteem, unfortunately, our self-esteem quickly disintegrates when life gets difficult. Self-compassion, however, can be there for you each step of the way. One of the leading researchers in self-compassion, Dr. Amy Baltzel, talks about how in times of deep suffering, self-compassion is the only tool that you really need. Take her analogy of lying on a bed of nails, for example. If you were to lie on a bed of nails, you wouldn’t be able to stay there for very long, because it would hurt you. Self-compassion, then, is a little mattress pad or yoga mat over those nails that allows you to endure the suffering a little bit more. Combined with the mindfulness component of self-compassion, it allows you the time to respond how you want to the suffering. In effect, self-compassion not only allows you to tolerate it, but then do something about it.

The consequences of not being compassionate towards yourself. – It is not unusual for an individual to learn about self-compassion and immediately think that it is weakness or “being soft,” when in fact, it takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to be self-compassionate. Self-compassion is actually one of the most selfless things you can do, because if you are not compassionate to yourself or taking care of yourself, you’re actually asking others around you to do it for you. If you need people to hold you up all the time, you’re asking them to do something for you, whereas if you can do that for yourself, it is actually more powerful and more sustainable, and ultimately more considerate of those around you.

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