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Self-Compassion: What is it and why is it so important?

     It’s 11 pm. You’ve spent several fruitless hours writing an essay that’s due at midnight and are struggling to make it past the intro. Earlier that morning, you woke up, looked in the mirror only to notice your acne-stricken face, then rushed out the door to your classes while your mind only became even more consumed by negative thoughts. Everyone else is so much better than me. I will never succeed. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. I am simply not good enough. Everyday is a constant battle and it can be exhausting to the point that it drains your desire to live life to the fullest. I personally have spent years struggling, and often failing, to feel good about myself. I’ve constantly tried to reassure myself that I was not defined by how others perceived me or by the criticism I targeted towards myself. Of course, this is often easier said than done. Last summer, however, my outlook was drastically changed when I read the book “Self-Compassion” by Dr. Kristen Neff. It was through this novel that I began to understand what it means to be self-compassionate and how I discovered ways to incorporate it into my life. This book has most definitely changed my own opinion of myself and I’m certain that learning more about this topic and its implications will have a positive impact on your life as well!

     All throughout my life, I have only heard about the importance of possessing high self esteem. However, I was shocked when this book emphasized that high self-esteem should not be what we are striving for. Crazy, right? This is because there is typically a fine line between high and low self-esteem. The side of the line we find ourselves on primarily revolves around our need to be “perfect”, our own self-judgments, and how we believe others perceive us. I can recall numerous times when striving for high self-esteem failed me. For example, failing a job interview would automatically leave me with the self-deprecating thoughts that I was incapable of that job and would likely never even succeed. However, on the opposite side of the fine line of self-esteem, if I did get hired, I would suddenly feel confident in my abilities, proud, and energized to take on anything else life throws my way. When we ride this fine line, life only becomes a constant struggle trying to feel good about ourselves, often leaving us unsatisfied and unhappy in the process. It is therefore essential that we start to recognize that life is filled with a multitude of experiences, both good and bad, and it is essential that we do not let our negative experiences get the best of us to the point where we let them define who we are.

     So what exactly is self-compassion? It’s pretty much what it sounds like- compassion towards yourself! We are often so quick to judge ourselves. We put ourselves down for even the most minor things and blame ourselves for any setbacks that we may encounter. Would we criticize and tear down a friend going through the same obstacles? Of course not! We are our own worst enemies when it comes to our self-esteem. So how do we learn to live life without constantly seeking approval from others and ourselves? When facing challenging situations, there are luckily numerous strategies we can use to allow self-compassion to enter our minds. These strategies can take the form of meditation, relaxing walks, or even just releasing your thoughts in a journal. With self-compassion, we can acknowledge that the current situation, as well as the negative thoughts that arise with it, are challenging. However, rather than suppress these thoughts, Dr. Neff suggests that we accept them as they are and have a compassionate response to them rather than beating ourselves up. Dr. Neff also focuses on the power of being kind to yourself just as you would be to others, wants us to recognize that low points in life are natural and simply part of the human experience, and reminds us to be mindful that our thoughts and emotions are not always a reflection of our reality. 

     I desire a world in which every human being can learn to truly love themselves and accept that, despite their flaws, they are priceless. I want YOU to recognize how truly beautiful and wonderful you are! The weight of self-criticism can be debilitating and is not something that is easily lifted. Only when we learn to embrace things as they are and understand that everyone is gifted with their own strengths and weaknesses can we free ourselves from the prison that is our own self-deprecating mind. Life consists of its ups and downs but that is all part of the human experience, which in my opinion, is something quite beautiful and something to be in awe of!

     Just like us humans, nature has its flaws. But even the flower with a missing or bruised petal is no less of a flower. It is still beautiful and deserving of love and nourishment. What makes us humans any different?

Lauren Watkins is a senior speech pathology major and German minor at Baylor University. She is from Aurora, Illinois, right outside the city of Chicago. When she's not studying, she can usually be found painting, playing the violin, watching sunsets, or finding the best new sushi restaurants around.
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