People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier, healthier and to cope better when bad things happen. There’s also some evidence that training to be more self-compassionate is beneficial. Overall, self-compassion seems to be a sensible practice, so why are some of us averse to it?
In their new study in Self and Identity researchers from Canada, Germany and the USA predicted that people averse to self-compassion think it will make them feel bad about themselves – for example, that they’ll feel more selfish – and also that they hold different values from their more self-compassionate peers, such as believing more strongly in the importance of success. They’d probably agree with motivational speaker Zig Ziglar who said: “When you are tough on yourself, life is going to be infinitely easier on you”.
Kelly Robinson and her colleagues surveyed 161 young adults about their tendency to be self-compassionate or not, the importance they ascribed to different values from prosperity to equality, and then asked them to imagine two scenarios of personal failure, one in which they treated themselves with self-compassion and forgiveness, and one in which they were hard on themselves and self-critical. Finally, the participants said how they’d feel about themselves after these two scenarios, based on 18 different character dimensions.
The less self-compassionate participants tended not to have different values from the self-compassionate, and they also agreed that self-compassion is good for well-being. But the less self-compassionate said they’d see themselves differently after showing care and tenderness towards themselves. Specifically, they said they would feel less industrious, ambitious, responsible, modest, careful, and competitive as compared with the participants who practised more self-compassion in their lives. Also, after being self-critical, the less self-compassionate participants said they would feel stronger and more responsible.
Overall, the results suggest that people who differ in self-compassion are just as interested in success and achievement, it’s just that the less self-compassionate think that being kind to themselves will hinder their ability to achieve because they associate self-kindness with being weak and less responsible and ambitious. The findings have implications for self-care interventions – those of us who struggle with self-compassion don’t just need to learn ways to be kind to ourselves, but we also need help challenging the negative assumptions we have about showing a little TLC to me.
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