Every so often, the level of disharmony that exists in our world becomes too much to bear.
One of my best friends has recently re-entered the dating world and lately, we’ve been talking a lot about how important it is to keep your rhythm. We’ve both had past relationships where we’ve been swept off our feet and fallen pretty quickly into teenage-like co-dependence.
But when the cloud of that love bomb lifts, and you leave the bunker to come up for air… things can look pretty different. It can be scary to resurface from a relationship to realise how much of ourselves we’ve given away. Getting ‘swept off our feet’ entails a sense of losing our footing. And maybe being swept off our feet for a short period of time is no big deal, but if we don’t get back up on our feet, we’re bound to lose our rhythm.
You’ve probably seen friends (or even seen yourself) fall for someone and lose touch with their friends, their families, their hobbies, their plans, and their dreams... their rhythm. Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to the bounds of teenage crushes. Our lives are full of competing demands and a tangle of responsibilities to others. It’s hard not to lose ourselves in all of it.
The trouble is that when we give so much of ourselves away we can feel really vulnerable when something goes wrong. When we break up with a partner, lose our job, or lose loved one, we naturally feel devastated. But there’s an added layer of emptiness that we feel when we’ve also lost ourselves along the way. Keeping our rhythm is a way of staying connected to what matters to us, to what we love and to who we really are. It grounds us so that even when the winds of life are blowing a gale we can always return to ourselves.
Perhaps the greatest act of self-love is to keep our own rhythm even in the midst of our busy lives. To carve out time in our schedules to prioritise what truly matters to us. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – it might be committing to that dance class that you love so much, going for a morning walk to see the sunrise each morning, taking time to meditate for 5 minutes before the family frenzy starts, having a long bath at the end of each week, making time to visit a good friend that you haven’t had quality time with for a long while, or reconnecting with your creativity.
Whatever it is that makes you feel like you – find it and hold onto it.
May you always keep dancing to your own tune.
Sometimes when we bring up self-compassion, we get the following response, “I don’t think it’s for me”.
And the reason being is that a lot of people who believe that if they start to show themselves some compassion, they're going to become lazy, weak, and self-indulgent.
But, I'm here to tell you that self-compassion isn't for the faint-hearted.
In order to be self-compassionate, we have to face up to our own mistakes, we need to take responsibility and own our stuff, and we need to have the grit to face our difficult emotions.
All of these things can be damn hard.
So let me dispel some of the most common misconceptions about self-compassion further.
1. Self-compassion will make me selfish.
Probably one of the biggest concerns that people hold is that self-compassion will make them selfish. But, you’ll be pleased to know that research has shown that self-compassionate people are quite the opposite of that, and are actually better caregivers.
In numerous research studies, results have shown that people high on self-compassion are more able to be compassionate to others (and they're also more resilient and protected against compassion fatigue).
The reason being is that if we give away all of our compassion to others, we don’t have any left for ourselves, and then we become burnt out and resentful of others taking from us all the time. To be a good caregiver, we also need to fill up our own tank every so often.
Want to be a better partner? In a study of couples, individuals whose partner was high on self-compassion were described as emotionally more connected and supportive. It also reduced the likelihood of the partner being controlling and abusive.
2. Self-compassion will make me self-pitying.
Sorry, but no pity parties here.
Self-compassion isn’t about “Woe is me”. When something difficult happens, we use self-compassion to acknowledge what we did wrong, but we do it mindfully.
This means that we use mindfulness to observe our experience without getting totally caught up in it. We don't amplify or minimize it, we simply acknowledge, “This is a difficult moment for me".
Researcher, Dr Filip Raes, found that undergraduate students who were more self-compassionate actually tended to ruminate less about their misfortunes and were also less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In addition to this, self-compassion encourages us to acknowledge that all human beings are imperfect and that we all face difficulties. This allows us to maintain perspective when we are going through something and we don't become isolated in our struggles.
3. Self-compassion will make me self-indulgent.
Let me ask you this...
If you were a compassionate mother and your child wanted to eat a whole packet of chocolate biscuits, would you let them?
The answer is inevitably always “No”, and the rationale for the “No” is that it’s not actually kind to let your child eat a whole packet of biscuits (mainly because it will make them feel sick).
Self-compassion rests on the same principle. Just like the compassionate mother wouldn't allow her child to overindulge, self-compassion means treating yourself with that same kindness. Self-compassion often requires us to use self-control, as it focuses on the long-term consequences of a behavior, rather than the immediate short-term reward.
This means that we have to tolerate our own distress for the greater good. So, self-compassion is almost always the harder option and certainly not self-indulgent.
4. Self-compassion will make me lazy.
Have you ever had a really critical coach or teacher? Where every time you did something wrong they berated you on your failures or were just plain old mean?
Tell me, how did you go with that?
What about a coach or teacher who was encouraging and kind? Who didn't shame, blame or put you down? Who instead helped you when you were struggling or provided encouragement when you achieved something that you had tried really hard at?
You can try to tell me that criticism makes you motivated, but research shows time and time again that human beings respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to punishment. Furthermore, research on those who use self-compassion after making a mistake, are actually more motivated to take responsibility, apologize and change their behaviors.
5. Self-compassion will make me weak.
Self-compassion is quickly emerging as one of the most important aspects of coping and resilience.
Allen and Leary found that self-compassionate individuals were less likely to use avoidant ways of coping, such as being in denial or defensiveness, and were more able to tackle difficult situations head on.
This was supported by Sbarra and colleagues, who found that individuals higher in self-compassion who were going through a divorce showed greater psychological adjustment.
So, those who are self-compassionate are actually stronger in the face of life’s many challenges.
If you're still not convinced and you want to hear it from the expert on the topic, check out Kristin Neff dispel these myths in this video:
Today I was sitting opposite my friend in a coffee shop, chatting with her about her upcoming trip home to visit family and friends. Midway through our conversation she paused, her eyes welled up, and she admitted, “I’m scared of going home and seeing everyone. I’m so fat at the moment”.
I felt a pang of pain in my heart for her. How could it be that she felt scared to see the people she loved most, and who loved her most, because she was feeling fat?
While this concept seemed senseless to me, I could also totally empathize with how she felt.
In fact, I think we all can.
We all have things we‘d like to change about our bodies: Thinner thighs, flatter tummies, bigger boobs, skinnier arms, the list goes on.
We struggle to have an accepting and loving relationship with our own body, instead spending most of our time jabbing, prodding and criticizing it. And generally, we have developed this seemingly logical belief that if we change these things about our bodies, we’ll be happier.
And why wouldn’t we? The weight loss industry alone made over $60 billion last year by selling the idea that we should be thinner, prettier, more perfect versions of ourselves. To put that figure into perspective for you, according to the United Nations, we could solve world hunger twice over.
Yet is changing our body actually predictive of happiness?
One would assume so, as we all feel good when we lose a little inch off here or there.
Jackson and colleagues from the University College London, who followed 1900 participants for four years, found that those who maintained their weight or even gained weight were actually less depressed than those who had lost weight.
Our body image is based on our perception. That’s why changing our physical appearance rarely has long-term significant impacts on our perceived body image or levels of body satisfaction. Otherwise, people with eating disorders would all be stoked. By the way, they’re not.
The scary thing is, that how women feel about their weight and appearance does in fact play a major role in how satisfied they feel with their lives. Dr David Frederick, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Chapman University, found that body image was the third strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction among women. Yikes.
So what do we do if changing our physical appearance doesn’t actually lead to greater happiness?
Well, we work on how we relate to ourselves.
Dr Ellen Albertson and colleagues found that listening to a 20-minute self-compassion meditation, 3 or 4 times a week for just 3 weeks, significantly decreased body dissatisfaction and improved body appreciation.
That might sound too good to be true, but the more you practice self-compassion, the more it just becomes naturally the way you respond to yourself. So if you want to love those thighs, check out these meditations.
If you want a bit more on how to use self-compassion to improve how you feel about your body, here are some more skills. Kristin Neff, the lead researcher in the field of self-compassion, suggests that there are three components to self-compassion. Below are ways that you can utilize these three components of self-compassion to improve your body image.
Mindfulness: With mindfulness, we want to practice just noticing our experience, rather than getting totally swept away with it. When we get stuck in that deep hole of self-criticism about our body, mindfulness can help us let go and come back to the present moment.
It’s about simply noticing “Aha, I’m deep in shaming my body right now”. You can then instead try doing something like following your breath in and out of your body, observing your thoughts, rather than being totally preoccupied with them.
Another thing you can do is to include some gratitude in your mindfulness practice. Gratitude is a significant predictor of happiness, and it turns out that your body can be a great source of gratitude, but how often do you stop to thank your body for all the amazing things it does?
It’s actually mind-blowing to the think of all the things your body does for you. Do you ever stop to thank your legs for helping you to walk? Or your arms for doing, well, everything? Do you thank your bottom for making sitting comfortable or your stomach for protecting your internal organs? What about thanking your thighs for storing your fat so that you have a healthy heart?
Acknowledging the function of your body parts rather than their appearance allows you to relate differently to your body and focus more on health and function. Ultimately, our bodies were designed to work, to help us to survive, not to look perfect. And relating to them from this place of gratitude rather than self-criticism can really help you to change your relationship with your body.
Common Humanity: Next time you find yourself in the work elevator obsessing about how the girl in front of you has better legs than you, consider this… She’s probably doing the same thing about you and your magnificent lashes.
Body dissatisfaction is extremely common in women, and we all share that same struggle to truly love ourselves just the way we are.
In fact, body dissatisfaction is so common, that on measures of eating disorder pathology, body dissatisfaction in “normal” populations versus those with an eating disorder overlap. Therefore, it’s considered normal to hate on your body.
Common humanity allows us to recognize that imperfection is the essence of being human. Acknowledging that we’re not alone in our struggles can be very reassuring and comforting, so next time try to focus on how she’s probably fighting the same battle.
Check out this commercial which highlights the common humanity found in body dissatisfaction.
Self-Kindness: If you were sitting opposite my friend in the coffee shop, how would you respond to her?
Would you get your judgy face on and say to her, “Well babe, if you just went to the gym more rather than being so lazy” or “If you didn’t eat that donut at lunch time and had more self-control, then none of this would be a problem”? Doubt it.
But, I’m almost certain you’d be saying some version of this to yourself.
And after you’ve laid into yourself, how do you feel? Beaten down? Disheartened? Depressed?
We can learn a lot from how we choose to treat others. Think of what you would say to someone else in the moment, and turn that compassion inwards. Why not try by starting off with apologizing to yourself for being so harsh in a moment of suffering.
Embrace those body’s beauties, they’re your greatest gift.
Albertson, E. R., Neff, K. D., & Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2015). Self-compassion and body dissatisfaction in women: A randomized controlled trial of a brief meditation intervention. Mindfulness, 6(3), 444-454.
Frederick, D. A., Sandhu, G., Morse, P. J., & Swami, V. (2016). Correlates of appearance and weight satisfaction in a US National Sample: Personality, attachment style, television viewing, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Body image, 17, 191-203.
Jackson, S. E., Steptoe, A., Beeken, R. J., Kivimaki, M., & Wardle, J. (2014). Psychological changes following weight loss in overweight and obese adults: a prospective cohort study. PloS one, 9(8), e104552.