In concluding the commemoration of Mental Health Month, which was May, and in light of the ongoing mental health awareness conversations that are ignited by the current pandemic, I would like to shift the lens on self-compassion – the ability to understand, accept and love the self.
Often we find it easier to show compassion to others perhaps because of our innate construct to share the experiences of others, including their emotions and sensations. Yet at the same time, we remain highly critical, judgmental and less forgiving to the self. We are tough on ourselves for making mistakes, our imperfections and flaws, which others are also not immune from. As a result, we continue to feel inadequate, insecure and dissatisfied with life, which in turn affects our mental health.
Important to note is that the self does not operate in isolation from others – we are an extension of others and therefore, need to be conscious in how we relate, think and treat the self. It’s okay to set goals and not achieve them all the time, it’s okay to miss deadlines sometimes, it’s okay to be overlooked for an opportunity, it’s okay to engage in self-pity occasionally, it’s okay to be disappointed or be upset. Humane experiences encompass storms, failures and require embracing flaws authentically without the thought of having to punish the self. Self-compassion is really about forgiving the self from whatever is holding you back and moving on to be a better person.
We can practice self-compassion by firstly, allowing ourselves to make mistakes and being kind to the self in the process. Internalising the fact that everyone makes mistakes is assuring that we are no different. Secondly, caring for ourselves by being understanding and empathetic to the self is crucial. When those close to us are in emotional pain, we are likely to extend hugs or comforting words. We can do the same for ourselves. Thirdly, when we catch ourselves thinking negative thoughts for example, “I’m not good enough” because we didn’t get the promotion; rather than reprimanding the self for thinking that “unpleasant thought”, release the feeling attached to that thought, and try to think along the lines of “it’s okay that I’m disappointed”. This technique is especially, helpful for people who struggle to apply positive affirmations as it minimises self-judgment and fosters self-forgiveness. Fourthly, accepting the self through embracing our own perceived (unreal) shortcomings and character strengths will create a balance in how we perceive ourselves, thus will provide a change of perspective. Fifthly, letting go of the need to be validated by external sources is imperative. Unfortunately, we live in a social media-driven world, which makes it difficult to separate oneself from the comparisons but being cognizant of the pressures of the social media world can reduce self-hate. Lastly, reaching out to others when plagued by negative thoughts or emotional pain will not only provide a sense of universality - that you are not alone - but can create an opportunity for building support systems.
Naomi Osaka’s recent actions of withdrawing from The French Open tournament demonstrated the importance of self-compassion by embracing her mental health challenges, and indicating that it’s okay not to be okay, and because of that has received enormous support from others in the field worldwide.
In Dr Kristin Neff’s words, “Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings…With self-compassion, we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”