Emotionally sensitive people are often among the most compassionate people you meet. They are compassionate with people they know, strangers, animals, and more, but they often struggle to be compassionate with themselves. They may even resist the idea that showing compassion to themselves is a desirable goal. Is self-compassion an indulgence? Does it need to be “deserved?”
Taking care of your physical health is important for your health. You may feel proud when you eat nutritious food or exercise. Taking care of your physical health is considered responsible. But if you focus on taking care of your mental health, you may feel guilty or that you don’t deserve the time, investment, and caring that entails. You may be willing to spend time on recovery, but not on building mental health. But self-care includes mental health care.
One of the core concepts most experts include in building mental health include the capacity for resiliency, the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Life will hold difficulties for everyone and the ability to recover from them and move past them is critical. Self-compassion is part of building resiliency.
Imagine that you make a mistake or something difficult happens. For example, someone you love doesn’t love you back or you don’t get a promotion that you worked for. How do you react? Maybe you minimize the importance (“It didn’t really matter,” or hide until you feel better. You might blame yourself (“What made you think s/he could ever care about you?”) or (“You always mess everything up.”) or chastise yourself for trying, (“Why did you even try? You are so stupid.”)
Self-compassion, as defined by Kristin Neff, means being kind to yourself, accepting your humanness, and being mindful. Imagine that when something difficult happens, you are truthfully kind to yourself. Maybe you say, “Of course you’re disappointed. You worked hard for that promotion,” or “Of course you made a mistake–you’re human.” You’re more likely to recover quickly by being mindful of your emotions and not beating yourself up about them.
Being compassionate doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook. You may need to problem solve or learn something new. You may need to repair as best you can. My guess is you’re more likely to examine what happened and learn from it if you are compassionate to yourself.
Self-compassion, being kind to yourself, accepting your humanness, and being mindful, can be learned. Practicing self-compassion seems to me to be part of strengthening your mental health. If you are harsh with yourself, maybe you could begin practicing self-compassion by having a mantra that you say to replace harsh self-judgments. What mantra would make sense to you?