Don’t be so hard on yourself: Self Compassion & Creativity
Self-compassion is a powerful tool that encourages us to extend the same kindness, forgiveness and care that we so freely give to others, to ourselves. While it could fall under the same umbrella as “self-love” and “self-care”, it’s roots run a little deeper. A lovely quote from the Buddha tells us; “It is possible to travel the whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be found.” What a compelling visual for what self-compassion truly is. Why should everyone else deserve the grace of your concern and sensitivity, and you be spared?
The idea of self-compassion has evolved since Buddhas time, with researchers like Kristen Neff, bringing it back into focus and to the forefront of the conversation, particularly when it comes to mental health. Neff’s proposes self-compassion as being composed of three subcomponents 1) Self-kindness versus Self- Judgement 2) Mindfulness versus Over- Identification and 3) Common Humanity versus isolation. Kristen’s breakdown is super helpful and practical when it comes to realistic ways in which we can approach and alleviate our own suffering and self-critical habits. Our translation of these subcomponents is 1) Refraining from harsh self-judgements and being gentle with yourself 2) Being aware of the negative self-talk, recognising it as thought and not becoming consumed by it 3) Knowing that these feelings of self-ridicule and critique are universal, human emotions that everyone experiences and you are not alone. I know what you’re thinking, easier said than done, but hey, you have to start somewhere!
When it comes to research, Kristen Neff (2003) found that individuals scoring low in dispositional self-compassion were more anxious and depressed. Neff demonstrated that self-compassion has a direct impact on psychological wellbeing but also explored it’s impact and relationship to creativity. At Bloom, mental health and creativity are two things we are passionate about, so when these two intersect, we are all ears, eyes, legs and toes. Neff found that self-compassionate individuals are more likely to engage with creativity for more intrinsic reasons. Intrinsic motivations facilitate higher levels of creative originality (Collins & Amabile, 1999). Meaning, the individual is engaging from their own genuine interest, and can enjoy the energy, enthusiasm and inspiration that comes with innate enjoyment.
Creativity is a resource that everyone, of every age and every occupation can tap into. The benefits of being creative are endless and important. From problem-solving and building confidence to allowing you to have different perspectives on events in your life. Creativity gives us the ability to look at the world a little differently.
One of the biggest barriers to accessing our own creativity, is ourselves. Speaking from personal experience, my own inner critic is always the first to cast doubt over any creative venture I pursue, old or new. The judgement of that incessant critic is never helpful or wanted. I’ll never forget one experience I had while working with a group of young girls on a mural, they were about 12 years old. They had the freedom to paint and draw whatever they wanted. One girl in particular stopped what she was doing midway through, I could see the visible frustration and anxiety on her face. She told me she thought what she was doing what terrible and asked if I could finish it. It stunned me to realise how young we are when that cruel, judgemental voice takes up residency in our brains. She was doing a perfectly good job but had to stop because the voices in her head were singing a completely different tune
An interesting study (Darya L. Zabelina & Michael D. Robinson, 2010) we researched for this article examines how self-compassion can be used as a tool in highly self-critical individuals to promote creativity. Participants in the study were randomly assigned to a control group or a self-compassion group and assessed by a version of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Both groups were asked to write about a negative life event. Interestingly, merely writing about a negative event can have a therapeutic effect (but that’s a blog post for another day!) (Pennebaker, Colder & Sharp 1990) The self-compassion group were instructed to follow carefully constructed prompts designed to encourage a self-compassionate orientation to the self. The results showed that by allowing participants to feel more self-compassion, they could engage more creatively and had higher levels of creative originality compared to the control group. The proof, ladies and gentlemen, is in the pudding.
At Bloom, we begin every workshop by letting people know that the purpose of the workshop is for enjoyment, to be present and mindful and nothing to do with technical skill. Despite this, time and time again we constantly hear people say “I’m terrible at art”, “I can’t draw”, “I’m awful at this”. This type of negative self-talk is rampant. If you’re speaking to yourself like this in a low-stakes art workshop, how is this voice feeding into the rest of your life? We have found, that while putting yourself in the position to be creative may be out of your comfort zone and you may be confronted by some unpleasant self-doubt, it is an excellent space to catch your thoughts in action and hopefully turn them on their head. Making mistakes when painting and drawing is as inevitable as a rainy day in Galway. Knowing this, you can give yourself permission to make errors, to be adventurous, to try something different and trust that all will not be ruined and the world will not end (not being dramatic, it can honestly feel like this sometimes!?). Applying this self-compassionate framework to your own mindset gives you time to breathe, relax, smile and enjoy the random delightfulness that creativity can bring. So friends, please, do not, I repeat, DO NOT be so hard on yourself!
Zabelina, D. and Robinson, M., 2010. Self compassion: Don’t be so hard on Yourself: Self compassion Facilitates Creative Orginality Among self Judgemental Individuals. [online] Available at: