What are the factors that promote resilience and wellbeing? Why is it that some people seem to face problems with equanimity whereas others ruminate about life’s vicissitudes, beating themselves up for their shortcomings and exacerbating their distress? Leary et al evaluated self-compassion and how it differs from self-esteem. Self-compassion is defined as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgemental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures and recognising that one’s experience is part of the common human experience”.
A person with high levels of self-compassion may see his or her problems accurately but reacts with kindness and compassion rather than self-criticism and harshness. Self-compassionate people do have higher levels of self-esteem. Whereas self-esteem is having positive feelings about oneself and believing that one is valued by others, self-compassion is an orientation to care for one self albeit without the negative aspects of self-esteem which are correlated with narcissistic tendencies.
Studies show that self-compassion is associated with lower negative emotions in the face of real, remembered and imagined events and with patterns of thoughts that generally facilitate people’s ability to cope with negative events. Also it was noted that people with high levels of self-compassion were more likely to accept responsibility for their role in negative events. They were less likely to ruminate about unpleasant evaluations or experience negative affect when confronted with their mistakes. Self-compassionate people more readily accept undesirable aspects of their character and behaviour than people low in self-compassion without obsessing about them, becoming defensive or feeling badly.
Mindfulness practice results in increased levels of self-compassion even though mindfulness practices may not directly focus on self-compassion. People who complete Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) increase their levels of self-compassion even though this is not explicitly taught. Self-compassion may play an important role by which people deal with life’s problems. Thus self-compassion buffers people against negative events and engenders positive self-feelings when life goes badly.