Is Self-Compassion… Selfish?
Dear Coach Wes,
Is self-compassion selfish?
- A Fictitious Reader in Singapore
Thank you for reaching out with your thought-provoking question! After all, not long ago, I had written about the dangers of being too self-focused. And now, here I am spending nearly a month on self-compassion. What gives?
Let me cut to the chase and answer your question: no, I believe not. Here’s why. SC can be defined as “treating yourself with care and concern when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, failures, and painful life situations”.Without this, we usually do one of two things:
We engage in toxic behavior to enhance our self-esteem.
When we err, as I did the other day, dinging the front fender of my car, we can excoriate ourselves with thought and word that would make even a sailor blush. This leaves us feeling angry, upset, and unavailable to help others in any meaningful way.
Or, we may engage in thought and activity that enhances our self-esteem in one or more of the following ways:
We dismiss constructive criticism that would otherwise help us grow;
We become angry, aggressive, or dismissive of others who threaten our sense of self;
We put ourselves above others, which can lead to prejudice and discrimination;
We seek cognitive closure (our desire to eliminate ambiguity) holding tightly to our view, come what may.
All of these options that stem from protecting our self-esteem are corrosive to promoting positive social relationships, as well as a positive other-centered focus. Our objective is looking out for #1, protecting our own self-image. In other words, by NOT practicing self-compassion, we are more likely to be a real pill to others.
When engaging in SC, however, we practice self-kindness, eliminating (or greatly reducing) any ill feelings we might have towards ourselves. We recognize our common humanity, acknowledging that fender benders and other misfortunes are a part of being human. And we acknowledge our own pain with mindfulness, without getting caught up in the story that might allow it to grow. In this way, we are in a far better mental state.
Our practice of SC, too, can be a bridge to compassion for others. After all, if we can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings, shouldn’t we do the same for others? Their sufferings and shortcomings are part of the human condition, too. They are as much of common humanity as we are.
So, Fictitious, although self-compassion may seem self-centered, in reality it is not. We cannot have self-compassion without understanding our connection to others, and it is this understanding that is more likely to bring out the best in us, even in the worst of times.
Meeting Suffering With Kindness: Effects of a Brief Self-Compassion Intervention for Female College Students by Elke Smeets, Kristin Neff, et al.
Self-Compassion Versus Global Self-Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself by Kristin Neff and Roos Vonk
It’s Just Around the Corner!
July 28 8PM Eastern Zoom Meeting ID: 812 727 5009 Passcode: 446373
As mentioned in previously, Ms. Ashley Hofflander and I will be co-hosting a group discussion on improving self-compassion. This is an opportunity for all of us to reflect and learn together. We hope to hear your voice in the mix this coming Wednesday, July 28!