There are so many (too many) misconceptions about what self-compassion really is and what it looks like. And it’s precisely these myths that stop us from practicing self-compassion. It’s these (erroneous) assumptions that lead us to being self-critical and dismissing ourselves. Which is why I asked several therapists to answer this question: What do you wish people really understood about self-compassion? Below you’ll find responses from two therapists, which just might have you reconsidering your thoughts on self-compassion.
Karin R. Lawson, PsyD, CEDS, RYT-200, psychologist and yoga teacher:
“The biggest misconception that I run into when I talk to my clients about self-compassion is that self-compassion will take away their drive. The common belief is that people have to be hard on themselves in order to be motivated to achieve and be productive. The worry I hear expressed in my office is that being gentle, flexible and kind to ourselves will give us too much leniency to be . . . (insert fear here).
Often the fear is that they will become lazy or will be judged by others for not working hard enough. When I say “working hard enough” that could be in relation to anything that they’re focusing on improving. It literally could mean their work/school life, their relationships, their recovery, etc.
I wish people really understood that self-compassion can enhance our productivity and focus. Instead of feeling like crap because we’ve beat ourselves down, we can actually feel more energized and positive about the future. When we give ourselves some grace (synonyms of grace include favor, acceptance and respect), we feel better. It’s nice to have someone support you rather than tear you down. How amazing it is when that person is yourself.
When we feel consoled, supported and give some grace, we have more energy to contribute to the pieces of life that we are working on. When we’re self-critical and judgy, we feel depleted, less than and it takes a toll on our self-image, our energy, and our motivation. Is it interesting how we’ve convinced ourselves of the opposite?”
Giulia Suro, Ph.D, psychologist, yogi and gardener:
“I think the misconception about self-compassion is that it should feel easily accessible. I believe that self-compassion is usually a very difficult and effortful choice to make. It can feel unnatural and awkward, or even wrong. It entails fully facing our most humiliating moments and deciding that we are worthy of unconditional acceptance. It means actively challenging our inner critic when we are stumbling, falling or failing and concluding that we are still deserving of kindness and patience.
For example, when we hurt those we are closest too or violate our own standards of integrity, it is easy to write ourselves off a screw-up, jerk or even a bad person. It may feel right because it’s what we believe we ‘deserve.’ It’s in those moments that it is more difficult to say ‘I did something I’m not proud of and there must be a reason. I’m a good person and I will keep learning and growing.’
Our innate inclination is likely to self-punish, disconnect or retreat in to shame. In these moments, self-compassion is an uphill battle that requires persistence and zeal. Each day that we practice self-compassion is a gathering of strength and reserves for the most gory of fights that are an inevitable part of life.”
Next week I’ll share a few more misconceptions about self-compassion, which I hope inspire you to be a little bit kinder to yourself. Which actually translates to greater compassion for others. Because, as Giulia told me, “practicing self-compassion becomes the anchor or starting point for our experience of compassion with others. If we cannot connect with pure unconditional regard for our own selves, I don’t think we will be able to truly feel it for someone else.”