Self-compassion and change
Research bears out the different ways that self-compassion helps us make changes in our lives. For example, people who are kinder toward themselves are better equipped to make progress toward health-related goals, such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, or recovering from substance abuse. When we’re self-compassionate, instead of shaming ourselves, we are able to face our struggles head-on with all of our resources available to us.
Self-compassion is also associated with the release of oxytocin (the love hormone that facilitates safety and connection), which reduces our distress and increases our feelings of care and support. As psychologist Paul Gilbert proposes, when we practice self-compassion, we are deactivating the threat-defense system and activating the care system in our bodies.
This soothing effect can help us when we are going through difficult times that require us to make changes in our lives, serving as a powerful source of strength and resilience. For example, David Sbarra and his colleagues found that participants who were going through a divorce and displayed more self-compassion when talking about their breakup were healthier, happier, and more resilient. Similarly, soldiers returning from Afghanistan who were taught self-compassion had lower levels of post-traumatic stress disorder.
This research bodes well for those of us who want to make changes in our own lives. Whatever we struggle with, practicing self-compassion can help us make headway on our goals and aspirations. Science is showing that the path to a happier and more fulfilled life starts with growing an attitude of kindness.