The Golden Rule, “treat others as you would treat yourself,” is a wonderful reminder to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Versions of the Golden Rule can be found across religions and cultures. It means being kind and understanding toward others rather than judgmental and harsh.
But the rule doesn’t always apply, like when we are are extra harsh–on ourselves! We can be our own toughest critics. During moments of self-criticism, think of a revamped version of the Golden Rule: treat yourself like you would treat others. If a friend made a mistake, failed at something, or regretted a decision, you would probably tell him or her not to be so hard on him or herself. If you peeked inside your own mind, you might discover just how mean your inner voice can be. Keep these gentler thoughts in mind when you make a mistake, fail at something, or regret a decision!
Practicing self-compassion, or being understanding, tender and kind to yourself, helps you cultivate more happiness, resilience and peace within. Sometimes it helps to think about a favorite pet, or a loving grandparent or a friend who loves you no matter what. Send those same warming, loving feelings to yourself.
Self-compassion may have many more benefits, too. Researchers at University College London, University of Barcelona and University of Derby have recently investigated the idea of virtual reality therapy with avatars to help individuals develop self-compassion and cope with mental illness in general. In the study, participants wore a virtual reality bodysuit while they expressed compassion towards a distressed virtual child. Then, the situation was reversed: the participants played the role of the distressed virtual child and saw their own adult body delivering their original compassionate message. After just one session, participants reported feeling less self-critical, safer, more content, and more relaxed. The researchers are continuing to research the lasting effects of self-compassion as well as more applications of virtual reality therapy.
While it is exciting that new therapies are on the horizon, you don’t need a high-tech device to learn self-compassion. All you need is a bit of patience and practice!
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Kristin Neff, PhD, the leader in self-compassion research, suggests following these techniques for developing self-compassion:
- Be understanding and kind to yourself when you suffer, fail, or feel like you aren’t measuring up in some way.
- Remember that everyone else suffers, fails, and feels like they don’t measure up at some point, too. We all go through the ups and downs of life.
- Pay attention to your range of emotions. Don’t push down negative emotions, like sadness, anger, or frustration. Instead, acknowledge them without judgment.
Being kind to yourself during times of failure, inadequacy, or distress helps you become more resilient. Next time you are beating yourself up for whatever reason, ask yourself, “How would I treat a friend if he or she were in this situation?” Remember the New Golden Rule.
Dr. Kristen Neff’s website: Self-Compassion.org
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© University College London, 2015