The importance of self-compassion

Betteena Marco/HIGHLANDER
Betteena Marco/HIGHLANDER

A lot of college students sacrifice their mental and physical health in order to get the grades they want. I would know, since I’m one of them. While sleep deprivation and an empty stomach might seem like a small price to pay for a good grade, these behaviors can be detrimental in the long run.

Beside the physical consequences such as a higher risk for heart attack and slower metabolism, pushing ourselves to exhaustion can be extremely harmful to our mental health and social life. Hunger and sleep deprivation can make us irritated and cause us to lash out at our friends. Additionally, the mental and physical fatigue can cause us to burn out and fail in times of stress.

Though it seems counterintuitive, it might be better to take a break and pat yourself on the back for whatever you’ve accomplished so far. We seem to live in a society that values personal success over personal wellbeing. This has established a competitive climate that forces us to compare ourselves to others, and make us feel inadequate when we don’t match up to those we deem better than us. As a result, we are never satisfied and we beat ourselves up for not being good enough, or not working hard enough.

However, it’s important to be compassionate and forgiving toward ourselves. When we acknowledge that some things are beyond our control, we become better at coping with failure and whatever consequences our actions may have caused. Better coping means dwelling less, which allows us more time to pursue other activities.

In the same vein, forgiving ourselves for our mistakes makes us less afraid of failure and encourages us to be more motivated to try something new, or give something we failed at a second chance. Insults and punishment can be extremely discouraging — even if it’s coming from and directed at ourselves.

It is, however, important to recognize a distinction between having high self-esteem and practicing self-compassion. When a person holds themselves in high esteem without recognizing their apparent faults, they tend to cultivate narcissistic tendencies and isolate those around them. Self-compassion calls for an objective evaluation of oneself and their capabilities. It requires people to be realistic and understanding.

The benefits of self-compassion can go beyond the person practicing it. A person with high self-esteem might not recognize when they’re in the wrong and see giving an apology as a sign of surrender. A person practicing self-compassion can acknowledge their faults and own up to their mistakes, thereby improving their relationships.

Instead of being frustrated for receiving an average grade (or worse), a self-compassionate person will simply be satisfied because they knew they did their best. However, being self-compassionate does not mean being lazy. We should still work hard and try our best in all our endeavors.

The integral component is being understanding and kind when we fail or don’t get the results we were hoping for. Disappointment is understandable, but berating and punishing ourselves is harmful. In a society where a person’s worth is contingent on success, it’s important to recognize that we can’t be perfect. We have to accept our faults instead of rejecting them.

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