The ability to be compassionate towards self is essential for positive mental health, studies show.
Mindfulness and self-compassion are critical attributes for mental wellness. Mindfulness means living in the present instead of worrying about the past or fretting about the future. Self-compassion, which involves compassion for the self, even when a person makes mistakes – especially when mistakes are made – is self-care instead of self-criticism. Both mindfulness and self-compassion are important for achieving positive mental health. However, are both qualities equally as important, or does one outweigh the other?
Studies on self-compassion and its importance to mental health have been increasing for the past decade. In order to practice self-compassion, a person first needs to be aware of suffering – which relates to mindfulness, which also suggests that one fist needs to be consciously aware of suffering.
Mindfulness and self-compassion do work together for wellness, but in different ways. Mindfulness will focus on acceptance of what is, while self-compassion focuses on the emotional needs for accepting what is happening. For example, mindfulness helps a person acknowledge the pain of losing a job or loved one. Self-compassion has a person asking, “What can I do to feel better?” Self-compassion is not an indulgence, but a necessity for long-term healthy living.
The topic of self-compassion has been popular with researchers. There have been at least three studies to evaluate how mindfulness and self-compassion influence one’s mental health. Psychologist Nicholas Van Dam led a study on the impact of mindfulness and self-compassion on anxiety and depression among 504 adults. The research determined that self-compassion was ten times more of an indicator of positive mental health than was mindfulness.
In a second study, Assistant Professor Brian Galla of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center studied 127 adults engaged in a stress-reduction program. After studying the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on stress, the researchers determined that only increased self-compassion could lower stress levels. Professor Galla did another study with 132 adolescents with identical results.
Traditional mindfulness practices and self-compassion techniques frequently work together in promoting greater mental health and are used in the same programs, such as in meditation practices. One way self-compassion is beneficial is that it reduces self-judgment and self-criticism, which can be achieved through meditation. Harsh self-criticism, or focusing on one’s flaws instead of their positive attributes, prevents most people from learning from their mistakes, taking risks, and improving their habits.
That is how self-compassion and mindfulness are intricately connected. The more a person lives life in the present and accepts themselves for who they are, the easier it is to practice self-compassion and achieve wellness. When practicing mindful meditation, people learn to be less critical of their thoughts and more accepting. Regular meditation will lead to greater self-acceptance, self-compassion, and far less self-criticism.
Mindfulness and self-compassion can blend seamlessly to help a person live a healthier, better life. Self-compassion, like a good friend, motivates individuals to be kind, self-supportive and supportive others, while helping to reframe negative self-directed thoughts. It all adds up to compassion for life in general and that attitude is the best attitude for positive mental health.