Most people have no problem seeing compassion as a commendable trait. But, put the word “self” in front of it and many of us get all weirded out. It seems like most words that start with “self” get a bad rap: self-indulgent, self-centered, self-absorbed, and just plain, old selfish.
At the same time, there is so much pressure to be kind, caring and compassionate to others. But where do you get the strength to give so much away? Especially, when giving to yourself is seen as a “bad” thing.
Here are the four top myths that I hear on a regular basis in my counselling practice.
1. Self-compassion is a sign of weakness.
All too many people feel like they must “power through” the daily grind and especially through tough times. It’s not unusual to hear, “feelings are for sissies and whimps”.
Unfortunately, people who hold to this belief suffer in pain longer than people who are open to practicing self-compassion.
The more that you deny what is really present, such as hurt, pain, sadness, jealousy, etc the more these very feelings grow. Since your feelings are there, you might as well acknowledge them.
It takes more courage to talk about your feelings, be open to them, and let others in, than it takes to shut down and push other people and your feelings away.
When you are open to letting go of your feelings, only then do your feelings lose hold over you. Self-compassion is a true act of courage.
2. Self-compassion will make you complacent.
If I had a dime for every time someone told me they have to be hard on themselves, otherwise they will fail, quit, give-up, lose motivation, or give in to not living up to their fullest potential – I would be a kazillionaire.
It is a common misconception that, “if you don’t beat yourself up, you’re never going to give it your all”.
The reality is: self-criticism and punishment is linked to lower mood, motivation and productivity. When I was a student in elementary school, teachers were permitted to give the strap. I remember being so afraid of getting into trouble, that I couldn’t focus on my schoolwork. Fast forward to 1998 when I was working in an inner-city school. I was trained to give positive feedback and reinforce positive behaviour in a special education class. The students were not only more compliant, but they were also happier and more productive.
So tell me, do you feel more motivated when I say, “Don’t be such an idiot, just damn well do it?” or do you feel more motived when I say, “Its ok. Everyone struggles at times. You’re going to be ok. You can try again.”
3. Self-compassion is about self-pity.
While many people might think self-compassion is about self-pity, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Self-pity is when you feel sorry for yourself. It’s when you wish that an upsetting event didn’t happen or that b*tchy person wasn’t so rude to you. Self-pity is about wishing things could be different and wallowing in, “Why does this always happen to me?”
Self-compassion however, is when you see a situation for what it is. Instead of wishing it away or feeling sorry for yourself, self-compassion is when you acknowledge the reality of the situation and accept it as it is.
Self-pity prolongs pain because you focus on the hurt and what you don’t want. Self-compassion lessens the pain and helps it disperse faster. When you acknowledge the hurt feelings and soothe your emotions, it is easier to let go and move on.
4. Self-compassion is selfish.
Many people believe that they must ignore their own feelings, hurt and pain while simultaneously giving, nurturing and caring for others.
Way too many moms hold tight to this myth. Research shows that women generally have slightly lower levels of self-compassion than men, even when these same women seem to give more caring, empathy and compassion to others.
Typically, the more you become self-absorbed in self-judgment and self-deprivation, the less bandwidth you’ll have to give to anyone else. And, sorry to say this folks, but….. the more you are focused on beating yourself, this is actually a form of self-centeredness.
What happens if you behave this way for a long time?
Most people tell me, they become angry, resentful, burnt-out and numb. Making it near impossible to be compassionate to others.
Ironically, the more you give to yourself, research shows, the more energy and time you will have to give to others. This can form a self-sustaining upward spiral. Meaning the more you give to yourself, the more you can give to others and the more you give to others the more you can give to yourself.
Research with couples has shown that the higher someone scored on self-compassion, the more likely they were to see their partners as caring, accepting, and supportive. While the more critical the person was of themselves, the more they saw their partner as detached, aggressive and controlling. Self-compassion was linked to overall relationship satisfaction.
When you meet your own needs first, the more emotional energy you will have to give to others.
Which myth gets in the way of your self-compassion?
Leave a comment or opinion on any of these myths. Or add your own myth and start a conversation.