A Meltdown On The Way? Effective Ways You Can Develop Self-Compassion

Wyoming winters can be hard, even harder when you live on a cattle ranch at an elevation of 7500 ft. When the wind whistled off Laramie Peak, one of our biggest worries was that the wind-driven snow would push the cattle into ravines where they would be covered up by huge snowdrifts and suffocate. 

I witnessed that happen once when I didn’t get my lazy butt out in the blizzard in time to save a couple of small calves before they were completely covered up with snow. I couldn’t hear them bawling for help and by this time there were no tell-tale lumps to alert me to their whereabouts.

We found the thawed bodies in the spring. I beat myself up for months after that incident, and I had it coming. After all, I had let two calves die so, yes, it was my fault and nothing I could say to myself would make the shame go away.

The idea of self-compassion rang hollow; I wanted to suffer. In some perverse way, it made me feel better, at least for a short period. In the back of my mind, however, another thought chiseled away at my peace of mind—it was better to find ways to learn from the experience because I sure as hell didn’t want it to happen again on my watch.

I softened and reminded myself that I needed to find ways to make the scar stronger than the surrounding tissue. No other animals died in the winters that followed. The balance between holding myself accountable and self-forgiveness was difficult.

It didn’t help that at about that same time a California assemblyman came up with the idea that self-esteem would solve the world’s problems (or at least those in California). He put together a task force to promote self-esteem. It folded after a few years and most psychologists were not surprised. It was nothing but a pop-culture approach that produced a generation of inflated egos.

Authorities agree that self-compassion is much more effective. It’s the counter approach to the high levels of narcissism we see in our country today. Researchers state that self-esteem itself is not the problem; it’s the way we pursue it because self-esteem is usually based on feeling special and above-average or better than others.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, means treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion as you would treat those you care about, like friends and family.

When we have compassion for ourselves, we don’t beat ourselves up when we fail. Instead, we recognize that everyone fails and that it’s normal. It allows us to grow from the experience. And that leads to a sense of self-worth and hope. 

This is when you need to be mentally tough and seek out ways you can learn. Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

Trauma is the result of repeated exposure to events that are emotionally disturbing with lasting effects on a person. According to experts, when we drop our defenses, it’s easier to enter into productive conversations about our trauma, and if needed, ask for help. Our ego isn’t in the driver’s seat anymore so we can return to one of our most important life skills—self-care.

New research underscores the fact that how we relate to each other as humans will determine whether we experience post-traumatic growth. It was determined that people who have a positive attitude about others find it easier to overcome their trauma.

Another study has found a small, but consistent, difference between men and women when it comes to self-compassion: women tend to be less self-compassionate than men. This is what is even more interesting: Women who have an equal command of both their feminine and masculine identities have the same level of self-compassion as men. 

Feminine women, however, appear to have more trouble pulling away from the traditional female stereotype. “I should be meeting the needs of others” is a mentality that is foisted upon many women from an early age. It’s this group that tips the balance of self-compassion toward men.

The same study found that women are, in fact, a lot more compassionate toward others than men. There’s a discrepancy between how women treat themselves and how they treat others. Psychologists tend to think this is because a woman’s instinct to protect those they love often trumps their own need for self-compassion.

Bottom line: we all need self-compassion if we want to grow from our trauma and come out stronger.

How To Make it Work For You: 

4-Day Challenges for Self-Compassion

Day 1

  1. Feel all of your emotions, not just the ones that look good from the outside. 
  2. Identify the things for which you need to forgive yourself. Often, you are your worst critic and you can be incredibly unforgiving of yourself and your reactions.
  3. Permit yourself to express what you are feeling without judgment because there are no right or wrong emotions, only ones that exist. 
  4. Name the things for which you are grateful.

Day 2

  1. Ask yourself: how would I treat my best friend in this situation? You might find you’re better at being compassionate to others than to yourself.
  2. How do you respond when a friend is hurting?
  3. How do you respond when a friend has made a mistake?
  4. What would you like to say to yourself when you’ve made a mistake?

Day 3

  1. Place your hands over your heart and count to 10 slowly. Your physiology calms down and the caregiving system gets activated. It will help you to talk to yourself more kindly.  
  2. Touch an animal. If you don’t have pets, spend time around a friend who has a pet.    
  3. Spend time in nature. Nature reminds us of our role as caretakers.

Day 4

  1. Apologize or admit a mistake you have made. Self-compassion gives you the resources to acknowledge a mistake because you see yourself more clearly. You’re not saying that you’re a horrible person. You’re simply admitting that you are taking responsibility for a mistake and not beating yourself up over it at the same time.
  2. Notice how you feel after the apologies. Is there a sense of peace? Forgiveness? How has this made you a better person for the future?

Related: How To Gain Control Over Burnout, The Other Epidemic