Why self-compassion is more important than we think

By Abby Ramirez

I’m going to be honest. For the past few years, I have not taken care of myself as best I could. School is hard, and so is the pressure of maintaining relationships and a social life. I often let myself succumb to stress, never taking a second for myself to breathe. 

I always thought that pushing myself to get the best grades and to be the best friend I could be would end up making me happy in the end. As a result my motto was “Working hard now will make you happy later.” For years, I let this mindset drive me into the ground. However, this all changed in January when I had an epiphany: I realized that I am allowed to take care of myself. 

Society has senselessly drawn a connection between self-compassion and narcissism, mistakenly defining actions benefiting oneself as the egocentric. As a result, humans push themselves far past their limits without even realizing it, choosing to put success and friendships before their own wellbeing. Instead of disregarding self-love as a selfish, trivial concept, we must learn to reject the stigma and attempt to work towards practicing self-compassion freely in our everyday lives. 

Learning to be content with oneself in a time where social media glorifies models with perfect bodies, where being emotional is considered a negative trait, and where educational expectations are sky high, is undoubtedly a daunting and seemingly impossible task. It is natural for most people to want to compete with others in any and every way. These types of actions, however, can be detrimental to our mental health. 

“At the same time that we try to see ourselves as better than others, we also tend to eviscerate ourselves with self-criticism when we don’t meet our high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip — as they inevitably will — our sense of worthiness takes a nosedive. We swing wildly between overly inflated and overly deflated self-esteem, an emotional roller coaster ride whose end result is often insecurity, anxiety and depression,” said Kristin Neff, associate professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas and author of “Teaching the Mindful Compassion Program.”

We must learn to let go of our incessant need to fit society’s idea of “perfect” and begin to accept who we are and make choices that will benefit ourselves. Trust me, I know that this is easier said than done. However, building a positive environment and mindset for yourself is entirely necessary. Once a person can come to terms with his or her own insecurities and mistakes, they can start to truly believe that they are deserving of love and happiness. 

This journey towards self-compassion is anything but easy. Sometimes trying so hard to become a better version of yourself can be exhausting and lead to a fallback to bad habits. Despite most pessimists’ beliefs, these setbacks are anything but final and are just a part of one long healing process. 

Cynics may believe that taking this much time and effort to care about oneself is selfish, even narcissistic. In some cases, when self-love turns into self-obsession, this can be true. When a person believes that everything revolves around him or her which causes that person to disregard everyone else’s feelings, it can be considered narcissism. 

However, in situations where a relationship with another person is one-sided or either person constantly sacrifices his or her own needs to help the other, taking a step back for oneself is undoubtedly the best way to benefit both sides. When we allow ourselves to fall into a deep hole of self-hatred, competition, and dissatisfaction, we rob our loved ones of having a friend or family member who is fully there for him or her. However, according to the Science Director at Stanford Center For Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Co-Director Wellness at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Emma Seppala, when people put down their differences and treat themselves with self-compassion, they can begin to treat others with more empathy and understanding. 

Self-love can reap benefits such as increased mental strength, productivity, and decreased stress levels, as well as a shift from a pessimistic to optimistic mindset. 

We all carry some sort of baggage with us that weighs us down and makes us feel like we are not enough, or that we are not deserving of being treated with kindness or respect. However, no matter what you may think or what place you may be in your life, I urge you to push yourself to step back, take a breath, and do something for yourself because all of us deserve to be happy and loved.