In our customer service work we have noticed that students’ experiences of their inadequacy are very common. Many students are very demanding of themselves and blame themselves when their work does not meet their high expectations. Self-flagellation may be a sign of perfectionism and that you have tied your worth to your achievements.
On the other hand, research supports the notion that compassion for yourself leads to better performances, reduces stress and gives you courage to do the things you find challenging.
Studies and studying have changed more and more in the direction of self-management. There is a lot of independent work to do: essays, reports, dissertations, learning diaries, remote assignments etc. As a result of the covid pandemic, e-learning and online courses have become an increasingly larger part of a student’s everyday life. Due to this, daily contact, sharing the everyday life and interaction with fellow students is limited. Building up support and a sense of community is not as easy as under so called normal conditions.
Nowadays the student is guided to bear an ever greater responsibility for the planning of their studies, scheduling and choices. Some choices have effects far into the future. While individual choices and self-management enable individual study paths, they easily put additional pressure on you as well.
The dominant set of values in our society likewise emphasises and welcomes characteristics such as managing on your own, individuality and achieving things. This may also easily add to our criticism for each other and mutual competition.
The feeling that I am solely responsible for the things related to my future inevitably causes worries, fears and anxiety. What if I make wrong choices? What do those choices mean regarding my graduation and future?
Sometimes it can feel hard to be gentle and understanding towards yourself when the world around demands you to strive some more. It is a lot easier to be understanding and gracious to a friend, acquintance or fellow student on the very thing you reproach yourself for. You easily demand more of yourself than others.
A self-compassionate attitude refers to the kind of gentle and understanding attitude towards yourself and your own characteristics that I would show, for example, towards a good friend or fellow student dealing with similar problems as me. It refers to accepting myself as I am, even with the personality traits and characteristics that I may not be fond of, or those I see as flaws or weaknesses.
One of the gifts of self-compassion is the ability to look back on your mistakes and bad things that have happened to you with gentleness and compassion. It is ok to feel negative feelings too. You do not have to try and cover everything up with a positive attitude. Self-compassion is a realistic attitude towards being human: Everyone’s life includes bad events and challenging moments too. No one can avoid them. Part of self-compassion is accepting the humanity in you and seeing it in others as well. A self-compassionate attitude also brings about compassion towards your fellow travellers.
A self-compassionate attitude is not the same as nonchalance or taking the easy way out. A self-compassionate attitude is feared to lead to laziness and getting overly comfortable. According to studies, it is exactly the other way round. Self-compassionate people often perform better at tasks and finish them conscientiously. On the other hand, someone treating themselves mercilessly may stumble on the bar they have set too high and procrastinate, underachieve or give up on the whole thing.
Where you can improve your self-esteem, you can also learn to have a self-compassionate attitude. However, it demands a lot of practice and patience, as learning any other new skill. You will begin to internalise the new attitude over time.
Self-compassion is largely based on the ability that is also practised in mindfulness: the ability to be present in the moment and accept what is to come, what has gone before and the present moment the way it is. A self-compassionate and friendly attitude towards yourself also creates the foundation for self-confidence and high self-esteem. Therefore, a self-compassionate attitude can help you gain high self-esteem as well.
A compassionate way of thinking and doing is linked to a better health and mood, as well as lower stress and anxiety. The power of self-compassion lies in the fact that it can be practised by anyone. With little everyday deeds I can improve the well-being of both myself and others.
The following list includes a few examples of self-compassion with which you can advance your well-being.
♥ Speak to yourself beautifully, as if to a good friend
♥ Treat yourself gently
♥ Write yourself a thank-you letter; what are you grateful for to your body, your soul?
♥ Practise intentional presence and knowing yourself.
♥ Upon a challenging moment, acknowledge the challenging nature of the moment. Think that it is part of life and will pass. Everyone else feels that way sometimes.
♥ Sometimes it is ok to spur yourself, encouraging yourself as you would encourage your best friend.
♥ ”Perfect is the enemy of good.” Allow yourself to lower the bar of your performance and your demands.
Authors: Suvi Vuorinen, psychologist YTHS, Tampere and Risto Korhonen, University chaplain, Tampere.