Self-Compassion: Rethinking the Golden Rule


by Kaitlyn Brodar

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We’ve all heard it. For the most part, we’re pretty good at it. Compassion for others comes easily to many of us. But what if we change the words around a bit? “Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.” For many people, this is pretty tough. Many of us have harsh inner critics—you know, that little voice in your head that says you’re a failure, that you’re not good enough, nice enough, attractive enough, smart enough . . . the list goes on. We would never talk to our friends this way! So why do we use such harsh language with ourselves?

compassion3Sometimes we justify our self-criticism, thinking it will motivate us to be better. However, a number of studies actually show the opposite: self-criticism tends to hinder progress toward goals. It’s also associated with several mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is correlated with markers of positive mental health, happiness, well-being, and adaptive coping strategies. Compassion literally means “to suffer compassion1with.” To be self-compassionate, then, means to suffer with ourselves. Note that this doesn’t mean self-pity—sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves is most certainly not helpful. Instead, it means being patient and kind to ourselves when we are going through hard times or when we fail at something important, just as we would show compassion to a friend who is struggling.

Self-compassion involves three major concepts:

  1. Self-kindness instead of self-criticism. For ways to practice this, check out this Huffington Post article about silencing your inner critic.
  2. A focus on being a member of a common humanity instead of feeling isolated or alone in suffering. We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all go through hard times. It’s what makes us human. You are not alone.
  3. Mindful awareness instead of over-identification with our flaws and failures. It’s good to be aware of the mistakes we’ve made—that’s how we learn and grow. Without this awareness, we would all be narcissists! However, mindful awareness means understanding that failing at something does not make you a failure as a person.

compassion4An excellent way to practice self-compassion is with loving-kindness meditation—check out this website to learn how to practice and to hear what a scientist from UC Berkeley has to say about the practice. This practice can be done anywhere and can be done in 5 minutes or less.

For more information and additional references, click here!

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