"I never thought of having compassion for myself." said one of my clients recently. "But doesn't that mean I am accepting my bad behaviour?"
Have you ever noticed that you're kinder and more compassionate to friends and even strangers, than you are to yourself or even to your partner? And you don't want to let yourself or them 'off the hook' or condone their behaviour. After all, isn't being critical part of motivating us to change, and making sure we grow and improve? Isn't pointing out our own or our partner's faults part of not letting things slide?
I remember a distressing time with someone I loved deeply. I spent over a year, beating myself up for everything I had said and done, or not said or done. Then I also had to content with the awful things that were said and done to me - willfully and intentionally to hurt me. I said the most unkind things to myself, and went from blaming myself to blaming them and back again. It was incredibly painful and created an enormous amount of stress (which later manifested as physical health issues) that impacted my life, my business, my happiness, my joy and my sense of peace.
In any relationship, it's crucial to foster compassion first for yourself and then for your partner or whoever else is in your life, if you want to have happier, healthier and more connected relationships.
Kristin Neff, PhD, and compassion researcher describes compassion as having three key components.
💙Treating ourselves with kindness: In contrast to harsh self-judgment, practicing gentleness and encouragement- treating ourselves like we would our close friends.
💙Recognising our common humanity: Embracing the imperfections that make us human, acknowledging that we all share in the experience of being flawed fosters connection.
💙Mindfulness: Being present with our own suffering without harsh criticism. Instead of: 'you are wrong, you should have done better,' we bring a sense of care, warmth, and gentleness to ourselves.
It's about becoming your own 'best friend'
So, why do we tend to be so critical of ourselves?
One reason is the erroneous belief that self-criticism is necessary for motivation, but research suggests the opposite, it actually undermines motivation. In fact, self-criticism triggers the body's stress response, releasing cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones, hindering our ability to:
tap into the energy of love and relaxation
activate our rational, decision-making brain
make positive changes
Contrastingly, self-compassion taps into the mammalian caregiving system, releasing feel-good hormones like opiates and oxytocin. This fosters an environment of safety and comfort, promoting our best selves and allowing us to access the parts of our brain and nervous system needed for change on a conscious and subconscious level.
Practicing self-compassion has been extensively researched, and the results are conclusive – it is strongly linked to mental well-being, reduced depression, increased happiness, greater self-responsibility, life satisfaction, motivation, healthier lifestyle choices, a sense of connectedness, and improved relationships.
Self-compassion is not self-indulgent and it is not about condoning behaviour. Instead, it makes you more available to others. When faced with challenges in your relationship, a compassionate approach towards yourself enables you to also bring compassion to your partner or the other person, paving the way for healing and connection. You can make choices about what actions you want to take like repair things that are not working; apologise; come up with creative solutions to the problems; set boundaries; forgive; move forward instead of staying stuck; create new, empowering habits; reconnect with your higher self; connect with another person from a place of growth and nurture; bring more understanding and love; experience greater freedom from emotional stuckness.
So, how do you do it? Great question!
Begin with noticing the way you speak to yourself, the moments when you are harsh, unforgiving, critical, judgemental. This step alone is worth celebrating and honouring yourself for! Like in mindful meditation, just noticing that you have gone into that critical, judgemental space IS success.
When you notice, pause, and ask, "How can I bring more compassion to myself?" Is there something you can say to yourself to remind you of your humanity, or your partner's humanity? Is there something you can do to anchor yourself in the present moment - breathe, feel your feet on the floor, imagine the small child in you that needs love, connection and support, put your hand on your heart and feel the connection with the part of you that KNOWS love and compassion.
In my earlier story, the moment I started bringing compassion to myself, healing did occur and I now have a loving, respectful relationship with that person - but it started with my own self compassion.
Remember this is a skill that you might never fully master (and possibly won't) Bring compassion to that, too and let that be ok! You are human, you will never be perfect at this, and it's ok! Practice bringing compassion for the small things - the times you get angry suddenly, or call yourself stupid or lazy or clumsy. Practice every day Remember, the journey towards a fulfilling and connected relationship begins with extending the same kindness and understanding to yourself that you readily offer to others, and will also build that skill of having compassion for others. It always starts with ourselves. As someone once told me, 'when you are judging others, you can rest assured that you are probably judging yourself even more harshly'
Wishing you love, peace, connection and endless compassion Live in Love
Your Relationship and Intimacy Coach
Supporting couples just like you, to have a relationship that with yourself and each other that is worthy of the love you feel for each other