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What is self-compassion and why is it beneficial?

Explore the different between self-criticism and self-compassion in this exercise.
Person contemplating.
© Monash University 2022. CRICOS No. 00008C

Explore the difference between ‘self-criticism’ and ‘self-compassion’ in this exercise.

Step 1

Bring to mind someone you care about who is experiencing some difficulty – perhaps a failure or setback, some misfortune, or is otherwise having a difficult time. Someone you care about who is suffering.

Reflect for a moment on how you have tended to respond to them.

  • What have you said? What tone of voice did you use?
  • Did you do anything else, such as touch or hug them?
  • What was the message being conveyed in what you said and did?

Notice how it feels in your body as you remember showing up for them in this way. How do you think what you said and did was experienced by the other person?

You may like to write this down or record your thoughts in a way that’s comfortable for you.

Step 2

Now take a moment to reflect on a time when you experienced some difficulty – a failure or setback, some misfortune, or were otherwise having a difficult time. A time that you were suffering the effects of these experiences.

Reflect for a moment on how you responded to yourself.

  • What did you say to yourself?
  • What was the tone of voice in your head?

How does this feel in your body? Again, you may like to write this down or record your thoughts in a way that’s comfortable for you.

Take a moment to notice the differences between the way you tend to relate to others who are suffering these things and the way you tend to relate to yourself.

What did you find out?

Did you discover that you tend to be much tougher on yourself than on others? If so, don’t worry – most people find that.

It tends to be much easier to be kind and compassionate toward others than toward ourselves.

When others are suffering, we often naturally bring an attitude of loving presence to them, softening our voice, being physically close and conveying a message of acceptance. Yet when it is us who is suffering, we tend to respond with self-criticism. We say harsh things to ourselves, conveying a sense of anything but acceptance.

Where does it come from?

Self-criticism often comes from a well-meaning place. We use it to motivate ourselves to do better, to avoid making (or at least repeating) mistakes, and to protect relationships (by not hurting others’ feelings).

It can also be the internalised voice of our caregivers from when we were little – we tend to relate to ourselves the way our parents and other significant figures related to us (and to themselves) when we were young.

What’s the impact?

Self-criticism has a cost. It activates the amygdala and triggers stress responses, flooding us with adrenaline and cortisol and compounding the suffering we are already experiencing.

To use an old (possibly outdated) metaphor, it’s like we have been shot with an arrow (the initial failure, setback or other form of suffering) and rather than tending to our wounds and being kind to ourselves, we shoot ourselves with a second arrow.

We have little control over the initial wounds that we receive in life, but we have a great deal more over whether we let fly the second arrow.

Talking point

Within the Comments, consider sharing with other learners what you noticed. Specifically:

  • How do you tend to show up for people you care about when they are suffering in some way?
  • How do you tend to relate to your own suffering?
  • What does each way of relating feel like in your body?
  • What does it sound like in your head?
  • Did you notice a difference between how you relate to others and how you relate to yourself? If so, why do you think this is the case?

Remember to only share things that you’re happy for others to read in an open forum and please do not share things which may be upsetting for others to read.

Don’t forget to contribute to the discussion by reviewing comments made by other learners, making sure you provide constructive feedback and commentary. You can also ‘Like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

© Monash University 2022. CRICOS No. 00008C
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