“In order to complete my work, I have to work all day”
T., 23 years old
“I want to pass 15 courses in the upcoming exam, I don’t have time to go out for coffee, not even once a week”
D., 25 years old
Certainly, many have made most of the above statements during their student life, in times when they feel overwhelmed by many academic obligations. Behind these statements, there is usually the idea that when there are many obligations one needs to meet, this will be done by constantly reminding oneself of these obligations, without allowing the slightest relaxation. As someone fails to meet the high expectations that have been set, a vicious cycle of self-criticism and cruelty usually begins that is considered to bring the desired result, i.e., the achievement of high and possibly unrealistic goals. Thus, people come to the therapeutic procedure being physically and mentally exhausted, looking for ways to continue working at these extremely high rates that they believe will provide them with the desired results.
This attitude towards oneself is associated with feelings of frustration, disheartenment, anxiety or even guilt in the face of our weaknesses, activating more intensely the inner judge that exists in everyone and this in turn leads to even worse feelings about oneself. In fact, the problem is not the failure to meet up one’s high expectations, but instead lies on that self-critical attitude, and the cessation of this vicious circle can be done by adopting a more friendly and forgiving attitude towards oneself.
The concept of self-compassion can contribute to this change of attitude (Neff, 2003). This is a relatively new concept in the field of psychology, but it draws on the long tradition of Oriental philosophy. Self-compassion refers to a warm and accepting attitude towards various aspects of oneself and consists of three basic characteristics: goodness (self-kindness), sense of common humanity and mindfulness. It is essentially an attitude of kindness, grace and care, which someone usually shows to one’s friends and yet it seems impossible to offer it to oneself. Such an attitude towards oneself usually helps us to perceive its limits or weaknesses as an inevitable aspect of human existence and less as something for which one needs to punish himself.
In recent years, more and more research has demonstrated the benefits of self-compassion in people’s mental health:
- High levels of self-compassion are associated with higher levels of optimism, life-satisfaction, self-acceptance and a better perception of self-sufficiency and self-efficacy.
- High levels of self-compassion are associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, negative thoughts or feelings of shame.
- High levels of self-compassion are associated with the ability to manage difficult situations, to perceive problems more realistically and to be able to recognize the degree of personal responsibility.
- The attitude of self-compassion seems to reduce the critical thoughts that people make about themselves, which in turn are associated with the appearance of stress.
- The attitude of self-compassion helps people to feel better about themselves, to take care of them and to accept them with their positive and negative characteristics.
There is often a misconception that self-care and self-compassion are about selfish behavior that shows indifference to the needs of others. In fact, the attitude of care and indulgence towards oneself helps him/her to realize realistically his/her possibilities and limits, recognizing respectively the possibilities and limits of others. If one treats oneself with kindness and courtesy, likely will treat other people in the same way.
“In the past exam I decided to read at a more relaxed pace, while taking care to go out and rest. Turned out that I had the same good results, but this time without forcing myself.” A, 21 years old