Self-compassion leads to healthier, more productive life

 Self-compassion leads to healthier, more productive life

Dr Saroj Dubey

We often find it relatively easy to be compassionate towards others, however, showing the same kindness to oneself can be challenging. Often, we set high demands on ourselves , criticise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings, and harbour harsh judgments. Self-compassion involves treating oneself with the same kindness and care as treating a friend.

Psychologist and author Dr Kristin Neff observes that the relentless pursuit of high self-esteem has become a tyrannical virtual religion in our competitive culture. The expectation to be exceptional and special leads to an unstable sense of self-worth, dependent on achievements and failures. She advocates an alternative path to happiness, which is self-compassion.

Research suggests that individuals with higher self-compassion lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critic. Self-Compassion requires accepting oneself with an open heart. Compassion should not be limited to others, but should begin with self-compassion. Contrary to the belief that being harsh with oneself or criticising oneself helps in motivation, it has been found to result in anxiety, feelings of incompetence, and depression.

Self-compassion, as revealed by Dr Neff ’s research, enables a clear self-perception and facilitates positive changes motivated by self-care. Acknowledging our own needs for love, acceptance, and security, Dr Neff suggests that self-compassion can provide these feelings independently. This approach allows us to have more to offer to others from a place of genuine care. The research so far indicates that self-compassion yields the same benefits as high self-esteem without the drawbacks of self-righteousness, prejudice, or narcissism. Embracing self-compassion frees us from the pursuit of perfection, opening the door to genuine happiness and satisfaction. It eliminates the self-condemning process of constantly comparing ourselves to others and questioning our worthiness.

The three main components of self-compassion, as defined by Dr Kristin Neff, are as follows:
1. Self-kindness vs self-judgment Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or criticising ourselves. Self-compassionate people recognise that failure and imperfection is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with challenging experiences.
2. Common humanity vs isolation – Self compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy are parts of the shared human experience.
3. Mindfulness vs over-identification Dr Neff suggests that self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness.

Being a doctor myself, I firmly believe that as medical professionals and caregivers, we particularly need to administer ourselves a healthy dose of self-compassion. While maintaining high standards of care, the challenging working environment, long hours, stress, and demanding nature of patients and their relatives can take a toll. The rise in medical litigation adds another layer of pressure, especially for interventionalists who often navigate precarious situations. When outcomes deviate from expectations, there is a tendency to self-blame, questioning if different actions might have yielded a different result.

Mindfulness training played a crucial role in  being aware of when we become too harsh on ourselves, and allowing us to show compassion to oneself. Medical professionals and caregivers who extend kindness and compassion to themselves are better equipped to serve their patients. Dr Neff ’s research suggests that continuous giving without self-care increases the risk of burnout and stress for caregivers, both medical and nonmedical. Studies indicate that self-compassion is an effective way to enhance well-being and reduce burnout among healthcare professionals.

Dr Saroj Dubey is Gastroenterologist and
author of self-help book ‘Rx for Resilience’


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