Self-Compassion: Everyone’s Secret Strength

One of the advantages of executive coaching is that it provides a private opportunity to discuss things you wouldn’t bring up anywhere else. Sometimes clients reveal how harshly they judge themselves in our coaching sessions. It always surprises me, especially with some of the highly accomplished people I have the privilege of working with.

Young children do not appear to experience self-criticism. As we mature, however, we learn to over-think. We judge, compare, worry, blame, and obsess about faults. We want what we don’t have, and we forget to appreciate what we do have.

We lose patience with ourselves and others, and don’t accept things as they are. As we lose self-compassion, we also lose our compassion for others.

According to Wikipedia, self-compassion is compassion to ourselves in moments of perceived inadequacy, failure, or suffering. Self-compassion is composed of three components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

  • Self-kindness: Self-compassion entails being warm towards oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring them or hurting oneself with self-criticism.
  • Common humanity: Self-compassion also involves recognizing that suffering and personal failure is part of the shared human experience.
  • Mindfulness: Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to one’s negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Negative thoughts and emotions are observed with openness, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which individuals observe their thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. Conversely, mindfulness requires that one not be “over-identified” with mental or emotional phenomena, so that one suffers aversive reactions

What I see is that when someone applies a negative eye to themselves, it erodes their sense of intrinsic value and self worth. Unreasonable negative thoughts intrude into the mind like a snowball effect. It grows and forms background chatter that drowns out appreciation and enjoyment.

Conversely, when you are kind and understanding with yourself, you expand that same capacity for others. The best leaders I know are ones who have compassion for themselves and others while still holding a strong belief in quality performance. In fact, I believe compassion is a key strength in outstanding leaders.

And maybe that’s the problem or challenge with it. Maybe we get afraid that if we’re too kind and forgiving, we’ll have to drop our standards and accept mediocre. The real challenge is to demand the best of ourselves and others, and still find compassion.

What do you think about this?

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