Treating ourselves harshly when we make mistakes or fall short of expectations is only natural given the competitive culture we live in. Fortunately, there’s an alternative path, and it’s the practice of self-compassion: treating yourself with love, kindness, and understanding whenever you experience suffering, rather than with harsh self-criticism or judgment. Approaching our weaknesses and shortcomings in this gentle way makes us feel better about ourselves and helps us achieve our fullest potential much more quickly than the painful alternative.
Self-Compassion vs. Self-Esteem
Self-compassion might seem like self-esteem, but the two are different in a few key ways. For starters, to improve our self-esteem, we’re required to compare ourselves to others. We look at how we measure up next to others regarding our wealth, status, beauty, intelligence, and accomplishments and hope that we see ourselves in a better light. But all this comparing tends to isolate us from other people. Then, when we inevitably fall short of the massive expectations placed upon us, we feel alone in our suffering and are more inclined to shame and self-flagellation. “You should have done better,” we say to ourselves. “This is all on you. Your failure. Your weakness.” On the other hand, self-compassion simply requires that we love ourselves no matter where we are in life. It’s saying to yourself, “It’s okay that you fell short. This failure hurts, but it’s not the end.” Self-compassion is being there for yourself when you’re suffering, as you would be for a friend.
Three Components of Self-Compassion
1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
Self-compassion requires that we be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes. When we miss the mark in any way and suffer because of it, we must recognize that such setbacks are inevitable and that we can choose how we react to them. Instead of despair, we can choose to be grateful for the experience. This self-compassion is far more constructive than judging ourselves for falling short. Rather than increasing our stress, frustration, self-criticism, and feelings of low self-worth, it takes failure and makes it our source of growth.
2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation
When we become angry or frustrated at ourselves for falling short, we tend to become the center of our own attention and ignore the suffering of those around us. This creates the illusion that we’re alone in our suffering, making us less inclined to address our weaknesses. When we choose self-compassion, however, a different state of mind arises. We realize that we are not alone in our suffering—that suffering itself is an essential part of the human experience. Keeping this in mind puts hardships in perspective and better equips us to deal with them.
A self-critical approach to life makes it especially easy to become “over-identified” with what in reality is only a passing thought. To combat feelings of frustration with oneself by choosing compassion, we need to practice mindfulness. Doing so allows us to become sensitive to what’s happening in our minds at any given moment and to observe our thoughts and feelings clearly without judgment or suppression. That way, when the impulse to self-criticize arises, we’re aware of it and ready to treat ourselves with gentle compassion instead.
Feeding Ourselves With Grace
At Oats Overnight, we invite you to come to the table just as you are with your own vision for who you’d like to become. We’re on the same journey, seeking to live mindfully and self-compassionately because we believe that’s the foundation for personal growth. We invite you to join our community of support, and we’d love to fuel your daily goals through a premium breakfast.