Thought of the Day: Self Compassion

Self Compassion

Happy Sunday everyone and welcome back to another long read on the Pineapple Chicken Blog. Last week, we discussed confidence and it was a chance to embark on a long but hopefully positive journey. However, this week I seemed to have taken a step back. It was a particularly difficult week and I could feel that I was not myself.

I have been trying to lose weight for my own personal health and to feel more comfortable in my own skin. But let’s be honest, there are social pressures to look a certain way especially when I spend so much time on Instagram looking at other inspirational women. However, this week I managed to put on weight which was extremely frustrating. I tried to “fail forward” by telling myself that it was a poor result but I need to push myself for the next coming week and lose what I put on and more.

Though this is not the main reason for my poor mental health this week, it certainly was a catalyst and impacted my relationships with others. I was taking a lot of issues back home; though my boyfriend tried his hardest to get me out of this “funk”; it proved to be futile. I am very grateful for my supportive network, but messaging my sister and communicating it with my boyfriend made it worse. My feelings of inadequacy grew because I had to reach out for help and inconveniencing others. Frustratingly, I was unable to effectively communicate how I was feeling and I just “couldn’t just get over it”; which then furthered spiralled into negative thoughts on how I could not get anything right. Worst still important people in my life think that a lack of confidence is “unattractive” which went back to the topic of not looking attractive and I put on weight this week, and this was an obvious fact to prove my inadequacies…the spiral goes on. 

This is why I wanted to focus on self-compassion this week. I know that I am very self-critical, however, I believe I need this to push myself forward and be “successful”, “effective” and “high achieving”. I have days where I believe that things are going right and feel awesome but these are plagued by many more days when I look and the mirror all that is staring back at me are my faults and flaws.

Self Esteem

Through my research on this topic, it seemed to be important to distinguish the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion, they are very different and I have been too focused on the wrong thing.

Self-esteem is defined as your feelings about yourself (positive or negative), as well as how you think other people value you and feel towards you.

When we become concerned about our self-esteem, it is necessary to compare yourselves to others. This is how you judge whether you are “better” or have “progressed” further than your peers. My constant comparisons are: Am I earning enough? Am I as successful as them in my career? Do I have the same comforts/lifestyle as them? They have already bought their dream home, when will I ever afford mine? They are getting married, will I ever be married? Do I look as beautiful as her? How do I get myself as slim as her?   You are probably thinking, girl, get a grip! Why are you comparing yourself to others? Though it is clear that I am overly concerned with my self-esteem and what I think of others and what others think of me.

It is clear that my thoughts are negative and for someone who stresses out really easily, it is a double whammy of emotions (Something else to work on…). In such instances, the body’s primitive response kicks in – the fight or flight response. In order to motivate yourself, do you judge yourself harshly and yourself a mental kick to push harder (fight)? Or do you run away and avoid the situation altogether and just “shut down” (flight)? I certainly can recall situations where I have selected the fight or flight response, or flip-flopped between the two.  High achievers consider themselves with more at stake because it is necessary to maintain an image of competence or success. The faster you are sprinting any little bump along the road will trip you up and the harder you will fall and any trip is seen as a failure. 

Being over concerned about your self-esteem does not help to build resilience. Self-esteem is fragile and forces us to becomes dependent on the acceptance and praise of others. In the era of Instagram and a constant online presence; the search for instant gratification and recognition by others through “likes” or “followers” has had a negative impact on our mental health, particularly mine. I recognise the irony that I write a blog and have a presence on Instagram as well. I could just turn away from it all but social connectivity is also fundamentally a human trait. For me, I wanted to tackle the issue more head-on than to remove my online presence but noting that this is not for everyone. There are more and more books coming out on digital detoxes etc.

If self-esteem shouldn’t be the focus, then what is self-compassion and why is this a better model?

Self Compassion

Self-compassion involves applying a sense of warm, positive regard towards yourself. It does not differ from the compassion you give to others. It is when you can empathise and appreciate that things don’t always go according to plan and it is okay to make mistakes. Self-compassion is just when you do it to yourself.

Without it, you are faced with feelings of negative self-esteem. The feeling you are unworthy and in its extreme form could develop into addictions, unhealthy relationships, hollow success, or material possessions. I am sure my boyfriend would say I have fallen into the material possessions category! This can potentially go on to negatively impact your mental wellbeing and develop into mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

From my readings, I understand that it is necessary to work on my inner struggles and learn to love myself. Do not be mistaken that self-compassion is not self-pity. It is not an “excuse” card nor a lazy way out. It is not a sign of weakness. Self-compassion requires vulnerability and the courage to face our insecurities as this is the way to learn self-compassion and acceptance.

“The first step we need to take on the path toward self-compassion is to embrace the most simple and basic fact that when our emotional immune systems are weak we should do everything in our power to strengthen them, not devastate them even further,” – psychologist Guy Winch.

When talking about self-compassion, it is nearly impossible to ignore the research by Dr Kirsten Neff who has also published a book on this topic. I have not yet had a chance to read it, but if I ever get a chance I will give a review when I do! She defines that self-compassion has three components

  1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment – it is being understanding towards ourselves and recognising that it is okay to be imperfect and that life will throw things at us, but that is okay. If we accept this as inevitable then we can be kinder and sympathetic to ourselves
  2. Common humanity vs. isolation – it is to understand that you are not the only one suffering and that all humans suffer. You are not alone.
  3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification – self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to negative feelings. You have to be mindful of those who are suffering around you and putting your own situation into a larger perspective and try not to get caught up in your own negativity. It means you have to be open to your own emotions and not be judgemental.

If you are interested in learning more, there is a test to check how self-compassionate you areI got a score of 2.23, which unsurprisingly is considered low in self-compassion. A score of 2.5-3.5 indicates you are moderate, and 3.5-5.0 means you are high. It is all well and good knowing a score but the key question is how do we develop more self-compassion? 

Cultivating Self Compassion

  • Practice Mindfulness/Meditation: This is linked to the three elements of self-compassion above; if you find yourself listening to your inner critic and telling yourself stories about your own inadequacies, this is known as over-identification. Be mindful and aware of these thoughts. Acknowledge them and just push them away. The below video is a little exercise you can try for yourself and for those who would like to learn more about standing up to your inner critic, please see this article here
  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect: Stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. It is totally acceptable to fail. You need to accept this feeling, giving yourself the permission might make it easier to accept how you are feeling
  • Express gratitude: I think this is also a topic that is big enough on its own, but feeling a sense of gratitude is very powerful. There is a lot of strength in appreciating what we have right now and who we are right now. Embrace that and you may notice you will develop a gentler voice and move the focus away from our shortcomings.
  • Work with a supportive therapist or coach: Remember my tips are from my own research if you feel that you need extra help, always go to a professional! They are trained to see through all the negative beliefs and can help you find your way back to the amazing person you are and always have been.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post. As always I would love to hear from you, so leave a message below or on other social media channels. Remember you are awesome and worthy, so be kind to yourself and others.

With Sweet and Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

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