Why Is It So Hard to Be Nice To Yourself? The Science of Self-Compassion in the Classroom and in Life

March 4, 2023

Teachers often come to self-compassion work looking to help their students to be a little easier on themselves. It might be a seed planted after a crisis like a suicide or when they hear (once again) the nauseating stats around teen depression, anxiety, and debilitating levels of stress. (1 in 4) Parents and educators alike want to help kids to feel less compulsion around getting straight A-s, getting into an Ivey, or graduating at the top of their class. Social media isn’t to blame and yet when a maturing person with an under-developed pre-frontal cortex (decision-making part of the brain) is tasked with homework, volunteer work, sport, music, and a navigating the complexity of social life, it’s easy to see how anyone can get caught up in behaviours that range from self-deprecating to self-sabotaging.

What is Self-Compassion

The science of self-compassion is new. Most of the research is less than 15 years old. Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer are the reigning experts and their site SelfCompassion.org offers a wealth of resources. Eighty percent of us are more kind to others than we are to ourselves. 80%! Self-compassion happens when you treat yourself in a way that is:

  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Forgiving
  • Open-hearted

Self-compassion feels expanding and it provides you with permission to be imperfect, or perfectly imperfect as I like to say.

Why Be Self-Compassionate?

People often see their lack of self-compassion as motivating. They also mistake self-compassion for self-indulgence. Self-compassion has even been labeled as weak. I like to remind adults that modeling self-compassion is really the only sure-fire way to show the younger people in your life how to treat themselves. Telling you child or a student not to be so hard on themselves rings untrue and inauthentic is we aren’t living self-compassionately first.

What Does Self-Compassion Look Like?

Mindfulness versus over-identification. This refers to an individual’s ability to recognize something without catastrophizing. In the case of a student, one C in biology can send them on a downward spiral where they now won’t get in to University and now the rest of their life is ruined because all they have ever wanted to do is practice medicine. Seeing the C as one mark on one test rather than an indicator of potential or latent ability is self-compassion.Common humanity versus isolation. We are all in this together. We all experience some successes and some failures. We all feel sad or angry at times. When an experience connects rather than disconnects you, you are being self-compassionate.Self-kindness versus self-judgment. When you make mistakes and use a growth mindset to see them as part of the process rather than proof that you are somehow inadequate you are offering yourself kindness. Our youth need reminders that part of being human and growing up is learning to do hard things.

How Self-Compassionate Are You?

If you are curious about how your own self-compassion rates, take this online assessment.If you need to improve your self-compassion, know that you are not alone! There are many simple ways to get better at treating yourself with respect.

  • Talk to yourself like a self-compassionate person would. “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. Let me be kind to myself in this moment”
  • There are a variety of guided meditations that follow a loving kindness philososphy. I love these ones on Chris Germer’s site.
  • Using Soothing Touch. Our bodies are wired to release compassion inducing chemicals like

oxytocin when we feel skin to skin contact. Hold your own hand. Give yourself a gentle brow, cheek, and chin massage. O r give yourself a hug. These all release opiates that help regulate moods.

Self-Compassion is good for you.

People who are self-compassionate are also more motivated, more proactive and less likely to procrastinate. They are more compassionate to others and they are more able to cope with life’s difficult moments.

What is the Difference Between Kindness and Self-Compassion?

They sound an awful lot alike however compassion prompts action which leads to elevating the suffering.

One More Reason (this one isn’t about you)

Research on mirror neurons has shown that we have something called empathic resonance. This means the sadness we feel on behalf of someone else is not less than our personal sadness. The reverse is also true. The emotions you are experiencing are contagious to those around you. You might be unintentionally spreading your emotional heaviness to your family, your friends and your colleagues. In the words of author Jack Kornfield

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”

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