How might compassion factor into suicide prevention?
I think most, if not all, adolescents experience some level of dissatisfaction with their bodies, especially now with the advent of social media. I remember when I went through puberty (yes, before social media), I was constantly comparing myself to my friends and the images I saw in magazines and on TV. I was born shortly before Twiggy became the “Face of 1966” in the fashion modeling world. My mother was obsessed with the latest fashion trends, so this unrealistic ideal was something that took a stong and lasting hold of our entire household. I didn’t measure up then and I don’t measure up now. It’s not hard to imagine how never being able to measure up to some impossible ideal within our families can lead us into the dark recesses of our minds, inviting that self-judgmental part to begin to lead us through life.
As our self-judgmental part grows, it tries to convince us that it motivates us to try and do/be better, that without it’s help we would become unmotivated and lazy. However, this is not true. In fact, research has shown that self-judgment puts us at risk for suicidal thoughts, especially during adolescence. Body dissatisfaction has also been shown to be a risk factor for suicidal ideation and this dissatisfaction peaks during adolescence. So you can quickly see how dissatisfaction with our bodies in adolescence, when our bodies are in such a state of growth and change, invites self-judgment, leading to body shame and, without some support to balance the negative spiral of judgment and shame, can contribute to the risk of suicide.
So where might compassion play a part? Well, research is beginning to demonstrate how self-compassion can be a protective factor against suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, teaching – or even modeling – self-compassion is not widespread in our cultures. Instead we have been taught messages such as “Suck it up, buttercup.” Such messaging has told us that to offer ourselves loving kindness or compassion is self indulgent. Again, another falsehood. Self-compassion is actually the motivating force for growth and change. So, if everyone committed to practicing more self-compassion towards themselves – thus modeling it to others – we would be contributing to the reduction in suicide risk, especially in adolescents.
If you would like to read more about this research showing how self-compassion can mitigate suicide risk associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescence , click the link below.