Almost everyone has heard the term ‘self-care’. It’s often pitched as the answer to a stressful day, burn out or even the bedrock to managing our mental health. You just need a bubble bath, a massage or even to ‘Netflix and chill’ right?
Well taking care of ourselves, or ‘self-care’, is super important. I too enjoy a bit of late-night TV vegetation and find I’m much more centred when I find time for yoga or meditation. However, as a Clinical Psychologist what I really wish people knew more about – especially when it comes to our mental health, burn out or stress – is the importance of self-compassion, and that it is actually quite different than self-care.
Self-compassion refers to the ability to be kind and caring to one’s self at times of suffering or failure. Since it was first introduced to the psychological literature in 2003 by Kristin Neff, research into the subject has grown exponentially. Today it seems clear that higher levels of self-compassion are associated with significantly lower levels of depression, anxiety, stress, self-criticism, perfection and a whole range of other mental health issues. Increasing self-compassion has also been shown to improve romantic and non-romantic relationships, leadership outcomes, confidence, parenting, care-giving, burn out and even physical health and recovery.
Given the somewhat overuse and similarity of the term ‘self-care’ with self-compassion you would be forgiven for confusing the two. However, there is actually a very big difference between them. Self-care refers to taking particular behaviours or actions that are regenerative and help us to relax and unwind. Self-compassion is much more complex and involves both thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It goes back to our childhood and involves things like ‘mindfulness’, ‘common humanity’ and is an emotional regulation skill set that reflects our schemas and mental maps.
Unfortunately, increasing our self-compassion is not that easy. It is actually very common and normal to have a resistance to being kind to ourselves. More adults than not today were raised in a ‘tough-love’ culture. We may have learnt that being compassionate to ourselves (or others) is soft, weak or self-indulgent. These are misconceptions that can be hard to break or even sneaky to notice when they creep in. Improving our self-compassion takes time and focus, but it can pay dividends for our well-being and mental health.
I discovered self-compassion through my own personal journey with well-being and conducted my first research study in self-compassion in 2013 as part of my psychology Honours thesis. Today I teach self-compassion to my clients through 1:1 psychological therapy alongside some of the main interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Schema Therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). Now I’m excited to bring this important concept to even more people through in person and online self-compassion workshops. For more information on the next workshop or 1:1 treatment check out my website at: www.thinkfulpsychology.com.