Self-compassion and your mental health

It’s probably no surprise to you to hear that perfectionism — ever-unattainable — is bad for your mental health. People who expect perfection are often overly critical of mistakes, which can lead to depression.

I read about a study this week that showed choosing to view yourself in a compassionate light dampens the link between perfectionism and depression. Check out this graph:

That dot on the upper right shows that perfectionists who demonstrate low levels of compassion to themselves are high on the depression scale. The dot on the lower right represents perfectionists who show high levels of compassion to themselves: Much less depressed.

Even if you’re not a perfectionist (like the people represented by the dots on the left side of the graph), self-compassion makes a difference in your mental health.

Let’s talk about ways to develop more kindness toward yourself. Here are some suggestions summarized from Psychology Today:

  1. Treat yourself how you would treat a small child or good friend in a similar situation. If the child or friend made a mistake, would you berate and think less of that person or would you try to comfort and introduce some perspective?
  2. Practice mindfulness. When you find yourself being self-critical, take a moment to just be aware of those criticisms without judging them. Then remember how that voice has protected or motivated you in the past. Understanding helps you avoid rumination, which can lead to depression.
  3. Remember you’re not alone. Everyone messes up. You might think you’re uniquely broken, but we’re all struggling and doing things wrong.
  4. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Note your mistakes or faults and tell yourself it’s okay; you still have worth and potential.
  5. Work with a professional. A mental health specialist can listen to your self-criticism non-judgmentally and introduce some perspective. He or she will help you and cheer you on as you strive to develop the skills that allow you to see yourself with more compassion.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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