Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Power of Self-Compassion

As I have shown an interest in books on mental and physical health and well-being in amazon's Kindle store, I one day found Kristin Neff's book on self-compassion among the books that were recommended to me there. It piqued my interest, and I went onto her website to learn more about this concept and see if reading about it might help me on my quest for a healthier, happier life. Reading through the info and checking out the free exercises provided on the site, I realised that, even though the term "self-compassion" was a new one for me, I had already incorporated the concept into my life, I just didn't have a name for it until now. This was confirmed by the results of the test I took on the site: it gave me an over-all self-compassion score of 4,44/5, with both self-kindness and mindfulness at 5/5. Still, I think it's a great resource for anyone wanting to lead a happier life, and thoroughly recommend checking it out. So here are some links: the main page - self-compassion test - guided meditations for increased self-compassion - exercises for increased self-compassion.

Even if you don't want to take the test, I recommend reading through all the statements and considering how you would answer each of them if you were to take the test and answer truthfully. This will make you more conscious of what self-compassion is and how you exercise it in your everyday life. The guided meditations are useful as they help you to slow down for a moment, to stop and be conscious of your body and your emotions, and give yourself the attention, love and kindness you need. I did find myself wishing for some meditative background music, though, but for an otherwise well-thought-out set of guided meditations that is available to everyone for free, this is a very small complaint. And it could just be me - I find that for me, everything tends to be better with music. Someone else might be perfectly fine meditating without any. The exercises are great as well, as they give you a good set of tools to practice self-compassion in your life. All in all, this site is amazing in that it offers so much of such great value completely for free. A huge thumbs-up for that!

I attribute a lot of my healthy self-compassion score to my parents and to the way I was raised. Dr. Neff says that a big part of our attitude problem is that we always have to be better than or at least as good as other people in order to feel good about ourselves. I, though, don't remember ever being very competitive or comparing myself to others in that way. I was raised to believe that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, everyone is unique, and no-one is any better than anyone else, just different. I wasn't raised to compete and try to be better than other people, I was raised to care for myself and look after myself, and to be sensitive both to my own feelings and to the feelings of others.

I never lacked for loving attention from my parents. They always supported me with my hobbies: built me a doll house (yes, actually built it, from scratch, and grandma upholstered the furniture for it), made sure I had enough books to read (I was a ravenous reader!), encouraged my creative writing (my grandpa did, too, but he died while I was still in primary school - grandma has often said that if he had lived to see what I've become, he would be very pleased and proud of me), took me to my piano lessons... I didn't need to be the best at anything, they didn't pressure me to compete, being myself and doing my best was enough. My parents are some of the greatest, kindest, most principled, encouraging, loving, down-to-earth wholesome imperfect ordinary people I know, and I recognise in both of them a lot of the qualities I want to nurture and develop in myself. I couldn't imagine myself a better set of parents even if I tried, and I am very, very grateful and proud to be their daughter.

 I did go through a period of very low self-esteem and almost no sense of self-worth as a teenager - I guess most introverted, introspective teens who have been bullied at school do. My boyfriend was the key to getting me out of it. Through his patience, love and kindness I learned to see myself as worthy again. It took years, but I was healed. And, finally, again over many years, I learned how to take care of my own heart, feel whole by myself, without relying on other people to heal the hurts life tends to inflict on all of us every now and then.

Now I can enjoy the company of others, love them and appreciate them as they are, without being too dependent on them, without holding onto them too tight, allowing them their own space and their own lives, their own independence. They are a part of me, a part of my world and my life, in my thoughts, yet they are separate from me, I don't own them and I don't control them - and that's okay, as I know that even if someone breaks my heart in some way, I will eventually be able to get it back together again. I love myself, care for myself, and that will be enough to get me by if I ever find myself in a situation where I am not loved by anyone else. It is this knowledge that enables me to be myself and live with an open heart, be approachable and let people in. No matter what happens, no matter how life and the people I let into my heart treat me, I will always have myself - I don't fear heartbreak or rejection as I know that, given time, I can heal myself.

When it comes to taking care of you, comforting you, motivating you, cheering you up, understanding you, giving you what you need, saying the right words, no-one knows how to do those things better than you yourself. Accept yourself for the unique, flawed and wonderful creature you are. You don't need to be perfect or better than someone else, just do your best to be the best person you can be. Don't beat yourself up when you fail. Instead, encourage yourself to learn what you can from it, move on and do better next time. Everyone, even the most perfect, most successful person you know, fails and makes mistakes sometimes - it's a part of life and doesn't make you a worse person. Your heart is precious, and it is in your hands. Take good care of it. Be your own best friend - for like it or not, you yourself are the only person you can count on to stick with you for the rest of your life, so making that relationship a good one should be one of your top priorities.