February 14, 2019

Love thy self

Learn how self-compassion can improve your health and well-being.

We’ve all been there at one point or another: We didn’t get that job. Someone broke our heart. And then we hear it — that critical inner voice — and we begin to feel self-doubt.

But what would happen if we started to treat ourselves like we would a dear friend?

We sat down with Naveen Sharma, PsyD, a psychologist at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center, to learn more about this practice of self-compassion and the important effect it can have on our lives.

How would you describe self-compassion?

It is directing kindness to yourself, especially during difficult times. It can involve:

Self-Awareness and Acceptance. Accept the negative emotion when it arises. Don’t try to numb it or disengage. Lean into it without judgment.

Self-kindness. Think about the deep care and love you have for a friend and direct that energy toward yourself.

Perspective. Suffering is a normal human experience. But we often label it as negative and emotionally isolate ourselves. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and share with others what is bothering you — this is when deep connections can form.

What are the benefits?

There’s a growing body of research that says those who practice self-compassion have less depression, stress, and anxiety, and tend to be more satisfied and optimistic.

It also helps with motivation — the more you can cope or self-soothe in the face of an obstacle, the more likely you are to dust yourself off and try again. And if you strive for something and fail, you are more likely to healthily observe what happened and determine how you can make different choices in the future.

Research also says that folks who practice self-compassion are at a lower risk for substance abuse and overeating because they’re developing other coping skills to healthily self-soothe.

Why do we tend to be so hard on ourselves?

Oftentimes that critical inner voice is not of our own creation. It can come from a voice in our past, such as a parental figure or coach. The more we receive these messages when we’re young, the more likely they’ll be internalized. Societal pressures play a role, too, and unrealistic scenarios we see in the media.

Often this voice can be neurologically reinforced, and it takes work to break free from it. I liken this to 2 paths you have a choice of going down — one is well-maintained and easy to follow, because you use it often. The other is overgrown and steep but could offer better views. Practicing self-compassion can help you go down that hard path, and it will feel more rewarding.

Take me through a hypothetical setback and self-compassion techniques.

Let’s say you’re seeking a new job and just not landing an interview.

First, validate yourself. Getting a new job is hard! And there are many factors outside of your control. Start to acknowledge your strengths. Think about your whole spectrum of experiences, not just this moment in time.

Again, treat yourself like you would a friend. Would you make that person a lasagna if they were going through a hard time? If so, make yourself that lasagna!

Other helpful techniques:  breathing and  meditation; calling or making plans with someone for support; imagining yourself bathed in warm, nurturing light; thinking about a mentor or loving parental figure; and writing yourself a compassionate letter or just free-writing in a journal. All of this can help you get in touch with yourself again and feel resilient.

Final thoughts?

Self-compassion not only affects your relationship with yourself, but it improves the other important relationships in your life. Often, we think that showing love to another means sacrificing yourself, when in fact that can turn into an unhealthy pattern. Prioritize your own well-being and model that to the other person.

It’s great to say, ‘Let’s be our healthiest selves together. I love me, so please, you love you, too.’