hug yourself

Why self-compassion should be the ‘New Golden Rule’

‘Compassion is a necessity, not a luxury. (sic) Without it, humanity cannot survive…’ – Dalai Lama, 1998

The axiom ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is commonly known as the golden rule as it has withstood the test of time, having been asserted in civilizations as early as ancient Egypt and numerous world religions.

In practice, the golden rule is commonly understood as compassion. And it’s pretty obvious as to why compassion is given utmost importance in societies – if we are to treat one another as we wish to be treated, then we are likely to practice peace, harmony and repudiate violence.

Compassion is important because it promotes meaningful connections, facilitates problem-solving, and improves health and wellbeing.

Compassion, at its core, is about putting aside judgment and refusing to turn away from challenging situations. Why is it so challenging to live in accordance with the golden rule when it has repeatedly been affirmed as one of the most basic ethical tenets for humankind?

Perhaps, we ourselves don’t feel we are treated well by others and, in order to protect ourselves, we react with a slight defensiveness and resist treating others as we would want to be treated.

Perhaps, also, we are not treating ourselves so well. Without self-compassion, we would not even begin to know how to treat others. In this case, the golden rule requires a precedent – treat yourself as you would want to be treated by others. This is not as easy to achieve as it seems.

One of the key issues that clients present with to psychotherapists and psychologists is low self-esteem, which is most reinforced with harsh, self-criticism.

We can all relate. How often have you felt not good enough, or even called yourself an idiot, unattractive, kicked yourself for your mistakes?

Many of us, too, have been taught that self-criticism paves the way to being an altruistic, decent human. Many of us would defend this negative self-talk and say this is how we can motivate ourselves to improve.

Psychological research, however, shows that self-criticism, or a lack of self-compassion, only leads to temporary motivation for self-improvement and more detrimentally may lead to a sense of worthlessness, guilt, shame, anger, anxiety and even depression.

Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion can result in increased confidence, resilience, optimism, curiosity, improved psychological and physical health and, importantly, kindness to others.

Self-compassion is also associated with the release of oxytocin (the love hormone that facilitates safety and connection), which reduces our distress and increases our feelings of care and support.

Not only does self-compassion benefit the individual, but its practice benefits humankind because compassion to others naturally follows from self-compassion.

Self-compassion is not to be mistaken for selfishness or hedonism. Hedonism is all about pleasure for the self at any cost. Whereas kindness to oneself is, at the heart, self-compassion.

How can we practice self-compassion, be kinder to ourselves and still stay motivated, driven, grow and, at the same time, become a more compassionate person? Here are some proven psychological exercises to improve self-compassion. Try practising any one of them:

  1. Think back to a time you disappointed yourself or made a mistake. Reflect upon how you felt about yourself and your self-talk. Now, imagine that a loved one made the same mistake and reflect upon what you would say to them, how you would feel about them, and how you would want them to feel. Notice the difference with which you speak to yourself and your loved one. Next, write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a loved one when you’re suffering.
  2. Reflect upon a situation in your life that is difficult and that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Next, placing your hand on your heart, closing your eyes, say to yourself:
  • May I be kind to myself
  • May I accept myself as I am
  • May I forgive myself

A hand or both hands on your heart will slow your breathing down. Notice the change in how you feel about the situation now.

  1. When you next feel the self-critique or the perfectionist taking over your thinking, ask yourself where these words are coming from? Are they truly your words, or have you internalised somebody else’s words? Ask yourself if these words are even true or are you speaking to yourself in extremes? Are you judging your character? Could you instead focus on a behaviour that can be changed, rather than judging yourself? Accept yourself for who you are right now and focus on self-improvement instead of self-criticism or perfectionism.
  2. Think of someone who loves you; imagine that person standing in front of you and see yourself through their eyes. Notice the feeling of warmth and compassion that person feels for you and allow yourself to feel that for yourself.

Remember that self-compassion is part of the golden rule of compassion. If we believe that compassion is the way for humanity to survive and to thrive, it follows that we too must receive compassion from ourselves.

By Farah Naz
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Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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