In a recent conversation with Fnality’s CEO, Rhom, he recommended that I should be kinder to myself. I’ve heard it before. In fact, I’ve been hearing this repeatedly since the early days of my career. I would normally do something nice, like a longer weekend, or taking a long bath. However, having investigated this concept recently, I realised that it is not just about doing something nice for yourself; it is about the way you treat yourself, and how you use your inner voice. If you are a person who often says “I am my own worst critic” or hears “don’t be too hard on yourself” the chances are that you may not be very good at being kind to yourself. Many of us are not aware of the unhelpful ways we may be treating ourselves.
Numerous research has shown that the skill of self-compassion (another term for self-kindness) is strongly linked to our mental health and well-being. Those who are more compassionate towards themselves tend to be more resilient to stress, anxiety and depression, report better quality of life, greater sense of well-being, emotional resilience, and less problems in relationships. Compassion is linked to oxytocin, the “love” hormone, which is associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship building. It promotes a sense of calmness and closeness. Directing compassion inwards can trigger the release of oxytocin, bringing its calming benefits.
Being kind to yourself means rewiring your inner voice from self-critical to that of a caring friend, someone who is compassionate, warm, forgiving, understanding, but also fair and objective. If your friend made a mistake at work, would you berate them? What would you tell them if they were distressed about missing a deadline or receiving challenging feedback? What would you recommend they do after a very stressful day at work or if you found out they were ill?
You may find the idea of self-compassion uncomfortable, too “touchy-feely” or believe that it equals being weak or avoiding taking responsibility. In a world where perfection is a virtue and we constantly push ourselves to work harder and achieve more, being kind to yourself carries a lot of negative connotations. Self-criticism comes naturally and is much more prevalent in our society. Most people would say that a dose of self-criticism helps to drive their motivation and self-improvement, whilst perfectionists will boast about their standards and mention this in their job interviews as one of those weaknesses, which are not really weaknesses. Negative beliefs about self-compassion and the perceived benefits of self-criticism create barriers to self-compassion. For someone not used to treating themselves with kindness, self-compassion requires conscious effort and practice.
Self-compassion is not a fix for problems or a cure for painful emotions, just like we cannot expect our friends to fix our problems or take away our pain. It should be there when we struggle, to soothe our troubled minds and bodies, and to help us accept that going through unpleasant experiences is a necessary part of life.
As my best friend would say, we are only human and therefore we are imperfect, and that is ok.