Self-compassion is more than just a feel-good concept. It's a learned skill that can profoundly influence how we handle life's adversities. DBT emphasizes the balance between acceptance and change, and self-compassion is a cornerstone of this balance. It's about acknowledging and accepting your current situation and emotions, while also recognizing the potential for growth and improvement.
What is Self-Compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff. defines it as "treating yourself the way you would treat a friend having a hard time. Speaking to ourselves like a good friend." Let’s look at an example to see how this applies in the real world:
Example: The Impact of Self-Compassion in Challenging Situations
Consider the scenario of being fired from a job - a situation that can trigger a cascade of negative emotions and self-criticism. A self-compassionate individual, in line with DBT principles, would first acknowledge the pain and disappointment without judgment. They might say to themselves, as they would comfort a good friend, "Losing my job is incredibly tough, and it's okay to feel upset about this." This acceptance doesn't mean they're content with the situation, but rather they're giving themselves space to feel their emotions without additional self-criticism.
Next, a self-compassionate person would engage in problem-solving, a key aspect of DBT. They might reflect on their job performance and consider constructive steps for future improvement. Importantly, they would do this without berating themselves for their perceived failures, recognizing that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and setbacks are opportunities for growth.
In contrast, a person lacking self-compassion might fall into a spiral of self-blame and hopelessness. They could think, "I was fired because I'm not good enough, and I'll never succeed in anything." This harsh self-criticism can lead to feelings of worthlessness and impede productive problem-solving.
The Many Benefits of Self-Compassion
Practicing self-compassion has been found to have a calming effect on the mind and help in reducing stress levels. Normally, when we encounter threatening situations, our body's fight-flight-freeze response is triggered, leading us to be overly critical of ourselves and withdraw from social connections. Self-compassion steps in as a remedy to this. By treating ourselves with kindness, acknowledging that our struggles are part of a universal human experience, and staying mindful in the present, we can turn off these threat-defense reactions and engage our care system instead.
Significant evidence of the benefits of self-compassion comes from a study where participants who engaged in acts of self-kindness showed decreased levels of cortisol, the hormone linked to stress. These individuals also displayed higher heart-rate variability, which is associated with a relaxed state. This research suggests that feeling secure and self-compassionate allows people to be more receptive and adaptable in their interactions with the world. The study further revealed that participants who practiced self-compassion were less likely to react defensively and more likely to be open-minded.
It’s Easy to Overestimate Our Self-Compassion Levels
Many people misunderstand their level of self-compassion. They might mistake self-criticism for humility or believe that being hard on themselves is the only way to achieve success. This misconception can hinder their emotional well-being and resilience.
Without an accurate, objective understanding of our self-compassion levels, we may continue to engage in harmful self-critical behaviors under the guise of self-improvement. Objective assessment, such as TheraHive’s self-compassion quiz, provides a mirror to reflect our true self-compassion practices and helps to identify specific areas where we may be lacking in self-kindness and understanding.
The Self-Compassion Quiz: A Tool for Honest Introspection
Our Self-Compassion Quiz is a tool designed to give you a clearer understanding of how kindly or harshly you tend to treat yourself, especially in response to tough times. It's an opportunity to reflect on your responses to difficult situations and recognize patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.
The quiz includes statements like "I'm disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies" and "When I fail at something important to me, I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy." These statements are designed to help you reflect on your inner dialogue and self-judgment in stressful and challenging situations.
Take the Quiz Here:
Like mastering any DBT skill, developing self-compassion requires consistent practice and mindfulness, especially in how we talk to ourselves during our lowest moments. Remember, the goal of DBT and self-compassion isn't to eliminate negative emotions or experiences; it's to equip you with the skills to navigate them effectively.