Think of a time when a loved one experienced a setback or an obstacle. How did you support them during that time? When someone you care for is going through a tough time, it is typical to respond compassionately—showing kindness, being understanding, and helping them to turn to the bright side or put their situation into perspective. However, in the case of a personal setback, we often struggle to show ourselves this same kind of love and support. Treating yourself with warmth, understanding, and patience in the face of adversity is showing yourself self-compassion. Self-compassion, as proposed by Kristen Neff, is made up of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (2003).
Using our app LIFE Intelligence, you can practice and nurture each of these facets of self-compassion within yourself. LIFE is a science-driven DIY therapy app based in theories of CBT that aims to promote health in all domains—personal, social, professional, and more. LIFE offers nine “Missions” to cover each of these areas to teach you skills such as self-awareness, conflict resolution, leadership, and much more. By embarking on the journey laid out by LIFE as well as utilizing the mood-wheel feature for specific emotion-management strategies, you’ll learn to get emotionally granular and become more self-aware—helping you to better understand and meet your own needs for yourself.
Following the perspective of self-compassion, there are two common ways to respond to ourselves in the experience of failure, suffering, or insecurity. Self-judgement involves being critical towards the self in the face of shortcomings while self-kindness takes a more patient and forgiving approach. Self-compassion favors self-kindness in place of self-criticism, encouraging the practice of being accepting towards our own imperfections and mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and being willing to sympathetically accept this inherent quality of humanness leads to a more positive emotional state. You can learn more about shame and regret (and how to address these feelings) in LIFE’s fourth Mission (Minimize Regret, Maximize Time), or by selecting “Insecure” on the mood-wheel.
In the face of feeling inadequate, we often find ourselves turning to thoughts of shame. Experiencing frustration over a mistake is normal, but remembering that we all mess up sometimes is crucial to practicing self-compassion. Instead of isolating yourself in these thoughts by ruminating over an individual event, recognizing that suffering is a part of human life helps put things into perspective. The principle of common humanity does exactly this—remember that no matter what you’re dealing with, you aren’t the only one. You will come out the other side somehow.
LIFE provides users with universally relatable information and prompts for conversation and reflection. Everyone who interacts with these features will have their own takeaways, but this content is designed to resonate for all. Use these exercises to remind yourself that there are other people on a journey like yours—you are not alone.
The final pillar of self-compassion involves finding balance within our negative thoughts and emotions. The key here is to neither ignore/suppress nor exaggerate or overindulge feelings of sadness, guilt, regret, or shame. Making space to experience your emotions without letting them completely overwhelm you can be difficult, but with practice it becomes more natural. To work on being mindful when it comes to emotions, try to recognize and acknowledge your feelings and their roots without being judgmental towards yourself for experiencing them. While over-identification involves rumination and inevitably prolongs negative emotional states, taking a mindful approach allows you to observe these kinds of thoughts, reflect on them briefly and constructively, then allow them to pass. For science-backed mood-management techniques, check out LIFE’s mood-wheel to log and learn from your emotions.
Showing yourself these kindnesses is not only useful in the short term to help you cope with difficult situations, but it also has a number of benefits in the long term. Self-compassion improves resilience by reducing rumination and engaging your mental energy in practicing self-forgiveness and positive reactions to failure (Lefebvre et al., 2020). Along these lines, self-compassion is associated with a number of mental and physical health benefits. Studies have shown that higher self-compassion promotes positive health behaviors (i.e. taking better care of yourself through exercise, diet, and lifestyle choices) and is even linked to more positive aging (Sirois et al., 2015; Phillips & Ferguson, 2013). Psychologically, those with higher self-compassion tend to experience better mental health than those who don’t practice self-compassion as frequently—it has even been shown to act as a buffer against depressive symptoms (Wong & Mak, 2013). Self-compassion is also beneficial towards social health; not only does it promote prosocial (selfless) behavior, but it taps into your compassion more regularly, encouraging these actions towards others (Lindsay & Creswell, 2014). Of course, many people who are compassionate towards others don’t practice the same level of compassion within themselves, but activating compassion in one direction (i.e. towards others or towards yourself) activates the reward center in your brain—the good feeling you get after doing something nice for another person—and thus encourages those kinds of behaviors to be repeated (Breines & Chen, 2013). Further, people who are more self-compassionate tend to engage in more constructive conflict-resolution strategies with their friends, partners, and coworkers (Yarnell & Neff, 2013). One interesting study found that self-compassionate traits in business executives are associated with more innovativeness and creativity within their firm (Stock et al., 2019). These findings suggest that self-compassion may also have professional impacts along with personal and social benefits.
Self-compassion is associated with more flexible emotional schemas; that is, your mental representation of your internal and external reality and the emotional response you associate with certain events or experiences impacts your ability to be kind to yourself. These schemas are created as we learn and grow, and they continue to be malleable as we get older—although they can be tricky to change. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on challenging cognitive-emotional distortions, has been shown to be helpful in adjusting these schemas and improving self-compassion (Pramono & Astuti, 2017). Practicing things like reflection, journaling, mood-tracking, and reframing exercises are all CBT-driven ways to become more self-aware and restructure your schemas towards self-kindness. This might seem like a daunting task, but LIFE Intelligence can help, offering a number of CBT-driven exercises to reduce self-criticism—check out Missions 1 and 2 to get started. When you find yourself falling into negative emotional loops or ruminating on intrusive thoughts, actively working to argue against your internal negativity begins to break down these unhealthy patterns. Identify intrusive ideas, try to find their root, and practice disagreeing with them and searching instead for the positives.
Another form of therapy that has been shown to improve self-compassion is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) (Yadavaia et al., 2014). ACT combines mindful-acceptance work with commitment to behavior change. Drawing from elements of mindfulness, ACT encourages you to experience your thoughts and feelings without judgement or criticism. Because self-compassion is all about accepting yourself as you are and committing to improvement out of self-respect, ACT strategies are useful in cultivating self-compassion. Recognizing that your mind isn’t always “right” allows you to engage in reframing strategies to combat intrusive and negative thoughts. Acknowledge thoughts like these, appreciate what your mind is trying to tell you, and give yourself permission to disagree and let those thoughts go. Mindfulness and self-compassion go hand in hand—the former asks you to identify and acknowledge your experience while the latter urges you to practice kindness and healing when that experience is one of suffering. Manifest mindfulness with LIFE Intelligence in Mission 6.1 - Stress, Social, and Holistic Health: The Body-Brain Connection. By becoming more aware of your thoughts and reactions in the moment, you will in turn find yourself better-equipped to meet your needs compassionately.
Having a fragile self-image can often come from too-narrowly defining yourself. For example, if you consider yourself very smart but do poorly on an exam, you may judge or criticize yourself instead of trying to move forward. Diversifying your sense of self is a good protection against the threat of failure—when one thing doesn’t go your way, try to list things that have been working in your favor; you may have gotten a bad score on that one test, but maybe you spent that study time on a piece of artwork you’re proud of. Focusing on the things that bring you joy and pride, even in the face of disappointment, elicits your sense of self-worth and encourages you to value yourself as more than a single, isolated event (Sherman & Hartson, 2011; Yarnell & Neff, 2013). By reminding yourself of your virtues, you affirm that you are worthy of your own affections, motivating you to forgive yourself for making a mistake and try again. To reflect more on your own values and identify what makes you feel proud and motivated, take a look at Mission 3.2 in the LIFE Intelligence app, “Define Your Why.”
Another way to work towards reframing negative thought patterns is to put those thoughts in perspective. Research has shown that the Gestalt two-chair practice is useful for improving self-compassion; when asked to reflect on insecurities from one perspective (in the “first chair”) then address them as if they were someone else’s (from the “second chair”), distance from these negative thoughts is created which allows for a more compassionate (and less critical) approach (Kirkpatrick, 2005). Similar to ACT and affirmation exercises, taking an “outside” perspective on our own thoughts allows us to acknowledge them, reframe them, and let go of the negativity. If you find yourself indulging your intrusive thoughts, take a step back and address them as you would if they were the thoughts of a close friend. Offer yourself the advice and perspective that you would offer to someone else experiencing these insecurities. LIFE uses this strategy as well—for a structured prompt for perspective-reflection about regret or insecurity, check out Mission 4.1, “What We Regret, and Why.”
In response to failure or setbacks, we often find ourselves feeling stuck, ashamed, or regretful. Instead of looking at an obstacle as a stopping point, framing the challenge as an opportunity to learn and move forward offers a less-critical mental approach. Employing this growth mindset makes more space for you to be kind and patient with yourself as you dust yourself off and instead of focusing on “what you did wrong,” you instead ask yourself “what did I learn?” You can cultivate a growth mindset with the help of LIFE Intelligence; Mission 1.5 “Grow a Growth Mindset” offers prompts to maintain your personal image and reward your effortful processes instead of only the end-result. When you might normally feel discouraged by a poor performance or negative feedback, a growth mindset encourages you to look forward and appreciate the learning experience you’ve been given. Rather than putting your focus on your present frustrations, forgive yourself for your mistakes and take the lessons with you into the future.
Compassion towards others can facilitate compassion towards the self. Taking the opportunities you have to show kindness to the people around you will encourage you to act the same way towards yourself. These acts of compassion activate your “caregiver schema,” making you feel emotionally rewarded for doing something nice (Breines & Chen, 2013). In experiencing this positive outcome, you begin to more naturally favor compassion over criticism in a more general sense. Something as small as a random act of kindness every-so-often can be a great step towards nurturing yourself with the same care.
Practicing self-love and self-compassion is often easier said than done. It’s our natural reaction to comfort our friends, but often our harshest words are reserved for ourselves. We hope this article has given you a few starting points to begin your journey to self-acceptance. For further personal development, download LIFE Intelligence today. By taking this journey with LIFE Intelligence, you will grow to understand, accept, and appreciate yourself.
Breines, J. G., Chen, S. (2013). Activating the inner caregiver: The role of support-giving schemas in increasing state self-compassion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(1), 58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.07.015.
Kirkpatrick, K. (2005). Enhancing self-compassion by using a Gestalt two-chair intervention. Texas ScholarWorks. uri: http://hdl.handle.net/2152/1966
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Stock, R., Groß, M. and Xin, K.R. (2019), Will Self‐Love Take a Fall? Effects of Top Executives' Positive Self‐Regard on Firm Innovativeness. J PROD INNOV MANAG, 36, 41-65. doi: 10.1111/jpim.12443
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