“If my friend was struggling with the same thing I am, would I speak to them the way I just spoke to myself?”
This is a question that I encourage clients to ask themselves when I hear them being overly self-critical. It serves as an introduction to the importance of exercising self-compassion when improving our mental health.
The word compassion comes from the Latin “cum + passio,” meaning “to suffer with.” This is a familiar concept when we apply it to others. For example, we may sit next to a friend as they grieve the loss of a loved one. Our presence tells them that things are not okay right now but that we are here for them. Oftentimes, however, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other people and we often do not show ourselves this same consideration. While we may tell others that “it’s ok to not be ok right now—take your time,” we may think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t be taking this long to get better–there’s something wrong with me for still feeling this way.” We mentally berate ourselves for feeling things we would tell a friend were “ok” to feel.
When we spend energy beating ourselves up, we are taking that energy away from recovering. We are kicking ourselves while we’re down instead of helping ourselves to stand up again. Suffering with yourself does not mean wallowing in self-pity. It means allowing yourself to be broken at this current moment and to work towards healing. Being self-compassionate is being a friend to yourself when you need one. Especially when dealing with mental health, we need someone on “our side.” We can guarantee that there is always one person cheering us on when we practice self-compassion.