“Self-love seems so often unrequited.”
- Anthony Powell
You have to love yourself before someone can love you, so the saying goes. Or maybe it’s you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. Something like that. Anyway, it seems the saying might not be far off. A recent study demonstrates that self compassion is associated with a healthier relationship. Neff and Beretvas (in press) questioned 104 participants and their partners on their self compassion, their partner’s perception of their self compassion, and various aspects of their relationship, such as control, relational well-being and verbal aggression.
The study found that people who had higher levels of self compassion were in healthier relationships and less controlling of their partners.
The authors noted that self compassion is different from self esteem. Self esteem can be unstable and conditional; often relying on others; involving feelings of superiority; selfish and egotistical. The authors define self compassion as having three components:
Self-kindness versus self-self judgement being kind to oneself when suffering, comforting oneself instead of judging and blaming oneself
Common humanity versus isolation the recognition of the shared human experience and that everyone makes mistakes. Rather than feeling isolated one feels connected with others
Mindfulness versus over-identification a mindful response to suffering means neither suppressing nor ruminating on feelings of suffering. Rather than dramatically running away with ones feelings, mindfulness involves maintaining a balanced awareness and acceptance of the feelings as the fabric of life
The more self compassion that you have, as defined above, the more accepting you can be of other people’s flaws and feelings. The results of the study also showed that people with higher self compassion were less controlling over their partners. It’s possible that people who are kinder to themselves and happier are more content to give their partners to freedom to make themselves happy.
Of course the study is correlational so we can’t say that being self compassionate causes a healthier relationship, but it seems logical that if you can’t forgive yourself for your mistakes or flaws, you will struggle to forgive others. If you believe that you are the cause of your suffering, then you are likely to blame others for their own problems, and be reluctant to expend your own resources helping, them.
But how how do you know if you are self compassionate and how can you have more self compassion? There is a test here, which is very similar to the one the authors of the study used. And in order to increase your self compassion, clinical psychologist, Dr Christopher Germer, has developed a form of therapy called Mindful Self Compassion (MSC), which aims to help people be in the moment with their negative feelings, to accept them and to hold these emotions in”loving awareness”. Sound like a load of old cobblers? Well, it may be, but Dr Germer has kindly provided free downloads of his meditations for anyone to try.
I really recommend you give it a go. Hopefully when life gets tough you can follow the tenets of self compassion: self kindness, humanity and mindfulness. Being kinder to yourself when things are tough is not simply a selfish act. As this study has shown, self compassion is associated with healthier relationships. Being kinder to yourself also gives you the tools and the emotional freedom to be more compassionate to others around you. It’s not just a case of “do unto to others as you would have done to you” but do unto yourself what you would do to others.