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The Opportunity in Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is not just some woo woo, feel good buzz word. During times like this, when many of us our stretched and perhaps not our very best version of ourselves, it’s actually critical.

Self-compassion does not compromise accountability. It ultimately helps us recover more quickly. It simply means trying to meet our challenges with more kindness and acceptance, rather than self-recrimination or regret. Several studies show that self-compassion decreases psychological distress, increases motivation and feelings of self-worth, and fosters optimism, curiosity and initiative. Many scientists have found that self-compassion increases our ability to see more possibilities, explore new perspectives, persevere through hardship and enhance resilience.

Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, notes there are three components of self-compassion:

• Practicing self-kindness, which involves being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than either ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up through self-criticism.

• Recognizing our common humanity, which acknowledges that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. And,

• Cultivating mindfulness, which is focused on taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that they those feelings are neither suppressed or exaggerated. We should not ignore our pain or overidentify with it.

There may be many things we would like to be doing better than we are doing right now, but it is important to recognize the tremendous stress being experienced given our vulnerability and lack of control. Accept that there will be missteps – maybe many. It is far more viable to recover quickly than behave perfectly. It is helpful to remember, and to reinforce for your family, that there is plenty of room for each of you to have bad moments, short fuses or behavior that reflects the big emotions we are dealing with. Give yourself and each other the time and space to regroup and be generous in your empathy and forgiveness.

Practicing self-compassion also means being aware of what our internal dialogue is after a setback. Is it along the lines of “I never get this right, I always mismanage?” Or is it some version of “this is totally normal.” When we hit a roadblock, it’s a good time to take a step back and reassess. How can we simplify this and refocus? Whether we talk to ourselves with self-compassion or a barrage of negativity directly impacts mood and outcome. It helps to consider what is true about what we are telling ourselves and what is not. Are our ideas about ourselves accurate? Are they holding us back from doing things that we want to do, or from showing up in the way we would like?

Enhancing our self-compassion creates a culture that focuses on an ability to recover and reset, rather than perfectionism, which undermines resilience. It helps us to move forward – even if it’s not in the way we planned. If we can hit pause and reassess what worked and what didn’t, focus on correction rather perfection, we can respond much more positively to facing the challenges we have to face. Self-compassion actually goes hand in hand with accountability, and is an opportunity to take stock of behaviors and choices in a way that is intentional, respectful and gentle. When we extend that compassion to ourselves and others, we are all bound to do better.

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Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.

~ Dalai Lama