5 ways self compassion improves mental health

Nearly every month, within the wellbeing sector, there’s a claim that a new technique will, ‘turn your mood around and change your life forever’. Unsurprisingly, most of these claims are exaggerated at best. However, research suggests that practising self-compassion can genuinely hold the key to improving your mental health.

self-compassion, mental health, wellbeing, counselling, self-esteem, self-care

What is self-compassion?
Its basically talking to yourself in a kind, understanding and compassionate way. Imagine the way you’d talk to a close friend – non-judgemental tone, understanding perspective and the belief that even though they’ve messed up this time, they’ll go on to thrive. Apply that same tone in the way you talk to yourself. That’s self-compassion, and it’s great for mental health.

The benefits

1. Self compassion is better for success  than high self esteem

There’s a saying, “There’s no such thing as failure, it’s all feedback.” When things go wrong, studies have found that people who deal with the setback in a loving and self-compassionate way bounce back quicker than those who ruminate and blame themselves.  Kristin Neff, professor of educational psychology at Texas University, has carried out multiple studies in the area of self compassion. She found that people who practise self-compassion are more likely to recover from setbacks and go on to succeed than people with high self-esteem. Neff believes that self-esteem can be based on feeling superior to others, whereas self-compassion is universal and non-judgemental.

2. Self compassion can help female athletes overcome injuries (so it should work for your pain too)

A study published in the Journal of Sports and Psychology (2013) looked at the impact self-compassion had on the mental wellbeing of injured athletes. Athletes who identified as being self-critical were asked to attend a week long self-compassion workshop, and then complete a questionnaire. The findings showed that the workshop was moderately to significantly effective in helping the athletes manage self-criticism, rumination, and concern over their mistakes.

3. Self-compassion can help you forgive yourself and accept the past

As a practising counsellor I often hear people mentally beat themselves up about things that happened years ago. Literally, ten or twenty years ago. And often the original situation was bad, the way they acted wasn’t good and they hurt someone. But the way they have been talking to themselves in the following years, has caused the most damage.  In his research, Skoda (2011) found that self-compassion was closely correlated with forgiveness of the self and also the forgiveness of others. Self forgiveness can be key to making peace with the past and moving on to a future that seems exciting and full of opportunity.

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4. Self-compassion can help you feel compassion for others

There’s little that needs to be added to these quotes. What’s good for others is also healing great for our own mental health, and vice versa.

“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”

Pema Chodron

“If you want others to be happy practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.”

The Dalai Lama

5. Self compassion helps with risk taking

Lack of self-compassion is associated with perfectionism. And although this sounds like a good trait, it actually tends to keep people stuck and living small as it’s so unattainable.

Goodtherapy.org explains, “Perfectionists are often their own worst critic. While they can be compassionate towards other, they may have difficulty in being supportive of themselves.”

When perfectionists develop a more self-compassionate attitude they often find it easier to take risks, especially if they allow themselves to make mistakes and learn from them. Because when a new situation is looked at from a compassionate point of view, rather than a punitive pass or fail perspective, everything becomes less scary and far more enjoyable – whether it’s a job interview, a blind date or even a new creative project.

Mosewich, A. et al. (2013) Applying Self-Compassion in Sport: An Intervention with Women Athletes. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 35(5):514-24.

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