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Want to be happy? Practice self-compassion

Compassion is the ability to show understanding, kindness, and care to someone who is experiencing adversity or trauma. In addition, it's doing it whilst being non-judgmental. Self-compassion is the same except that it is aimed at directing those thoughts and actions toward yourself.

Why is self-compassion important?

Studies show that having self-compassion has a significant bearing in being able to deal more effectively with adversity, which in itself is a key attribute of resilience. The evidence also shows that individuals who have more self-compassion have greater happiness, better relationships, and less anxiety and depression. So, there are some very rewarding incentives to becoming more self-compassionate!

Does it work in practice? My own experience shows it does

From my own experiences, the answer is a resounding yes! However, it took me a long time to realise the importance and need for self-compassion. Before suffering multiple heart attacks, I tended to be my harshest critic and was a bit of a perfectionist. I don't think I had even heard of the term self-compassion! At work, this meant working much longer than I should have to meet expectations that I had for myself as well as to meet the expectations that I believed my employer had of me. Inevitably, this causes stress and anxiety as you are always running on high levels of adrenaline. Failure is never an option for perfectionists. But there is only so much stress and work overload a body can tolerate...

It wasn't really surprising that I suffered my first attack at work. This should have been a moment for reflection; to assess the changes that such a momentous event has- both for me and my family. The heart attack damaged significant parts of my heart and I had been diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease. This should have led to some major lifestyle changes. Instead, I still believed I could carry on working as before and was determined to show that nothing had changed, showing zero levels of self-compassion. When I returned to work, I could see the doubt in my employer as to my continued effectiveness. As the frustrations of how my employer treated me continued, my lack of self-compassion only worsened. I blamed myself for every lack of support and understanding they showed, believing I did not deserve or expect any help from them.

This led to a vicious cycle, whereby the lack of support from the employer made me try even harder at work, pushing myself when I should have rested, causing me ever-increasing levels of stress and anxiety. Looking back on those events, it's clear that there was only going to be one outcome - I suffered my 2nd heart attack at work, at the same employer, 18 months later.

This time I did have time to think; waiting 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive was extremely painful and distressing but it gave me time to reflect and re-assess my priorities and my lifestyle. This reflection continued at home during my recuperation after the 2nd heart attack and made me realise how lucky I was to have a further chance to live and do things differently.

Self- Compassion in practice

What changes did I make? I realised that:

  • My attitude towards work-life balance changed significantly. No longer is work the only goal for me. Re-assessment of my priorities made me realise how much more there is to life than just keeping your employer happy at all costs.

  • I acknowledged that the heart attacks meant that life could not carry on as before and that I was not the same person as before. However, that did not mean that the quality of my life has to be adversely impacted too.

  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I changed my attitude and beliefs towards myself;

    1. I started to change my internal dialogue; notably the thoughts I had especially towards blaming myself if things went wrong or self-catastrophising if I didn't complete a specific piece of work or physical workout.

    2. I showed more kindness and understanding towards myself in my day-to-day life. I acknowledged that I was allowed to have bad days and that it was inevitable given my condition. Self-care is something that has become important and a daily habit. It can take the form of even small things such as doing 5 minutes of stretching daily or taking a much more leisurely walk than usual if I'm feeling tired.

    3. The resultant change in thoughts and mindset led to positive changes in my behaviour which had a positive knock-on effect on those close to me. I became far less frustrated with myself and with life and far more accepting of what had happened to me. I started to practice acceptance; the need to accept situations and move with the flow rather than perpetually fight awkward and difficult situations.

    4. Showing much more self-awareness/mindfulness of my situation and taking time to reflect, rest and as a result, I gained a much better perspective of events. Many events are not as important as I once thought they were. Consequently, I found that I became a much calmer person than before, with much less angst and stress about events.

Final Thoughts

Based on my own experience, I would wholeheartedly say that self-compassion is an important skill to develop as it will make a big difference to the quality of your day-to-day life. Self-compassion is not a personality trait, it's a skill that can be learned and like every other skill, the more you practice, the better you get.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on self-compassion. Please send your comments to I look forward to hearing from you.

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