Self compassion is the deliberate practice of being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself. It entails being aware of your own suffering, challenges and shortcomings without judgment. It is often said that self compassion means affording yourself the same kindness that you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.
Research into the practice of self-compassion has shown considerable benefits for overall wellbeing. People who are more self-compassionate tend to have better physical and mental health and are less prone to anxiety and depression. Interestingly enough, the “tough love” approach tends to break us down over time. On the other hand, being gentler with yourself actually helps you develop emotional strength and resilience.
How you can practice self compassion
Self compassion begins with the knowledge that you are a human being who is trying their best. Everyone makes mistakes and will experience failures and regrets. Remind yourself that you are not the only one who is feeling afraid or uncertain. This is all a part of the human experience and you are doing the best that you can under very challenging circumstances. Self compassion involves recognizing that your mistakes, perceived inadequacies and suffering do not negate your value and worth as a person.
One of the easiest ways to show yourself compassion is to pretend that you are a beloved friend who is going through a rough time. Even if your friend was somewhat at fault or genuinely messed up, wouldn’t you assure them that it’s okay? Wouldn’t you let them know that everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that this too will pass?
You certainly wouldn’t berate your friend by telling them that they deserve to suffer because of the mistake they made. You would never tell a friend that their life is forever ruined because of one wrong decision. So why do we do this to ourselves?
Being a good friend to yourself
Ashley just found out that she didn’t get a job that she was really banking on. She feels hurt and rejected and her mind spirals with all kinds of thoughts. She tells herself that she will never get hired because she just isn’t impressive enough. The hiring manager probably saw her application and laughed. She should just give up the job hunt now because she will never find a good job.
Now, imagine that Ashley calls her boyfriend and tells him that she didn’t get the job. He responds by saying that he isn’t surprised because she simply isn’t impressive. He tells her that the hiring manager probably took one look at her email and deleted it. He tells her she should just give up on job hunting because she’s never going to find a job.
Ashley should dump that boyfriend, right? How could he be so mean during a moment of vulnerability?
It’s so easy for us to treat ourselves in ways that we would never tolerate from the people in our lives. It’s so easy to say unkind things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to the people we love. The next time you’re feeling low, ask yourself what you would want to hear from a close friend in that moment. Then say those things to yourself. It may feel strange at first, but soon it will become natural for you to treat yourself with gentleness and compassion.
Self criticism versus self compassion
Self criticism usually has good intentions. When we criticize ourselves, it’s often because we hold ourselves to very high standards. It’s easy to believe that self criticism helps to hold yourself accountable or keeps you in check when you mess up. But in the long run, self criticism can turn into a constant loop of self-loathing, leading to poor self esteem, depression and anxiety. You begin to fear your own brain’s mean comments, so you are constantly on guard and afraid to make mistakes or take risks.
Self compassion, on the other hand, provides a safe space where you feel empowered to try new things. You know that you can rely on yourself to be supportive during inevitable moments of failure and regret. This helps you to build emotional resilience over time. Self compassion is a source of inner strength that helps people to cope with the difficulties that life throws their way.
Self criticism cuts you down over time and can even make you cynical. Self compassion builds you up.
What self compassion is NOT
Self compassion is not the same as self pity. Self compassion comes from a place of empowerment, not victimhood. Self compassion does not mean that you do not accept responsibility for your actions or that you make excuses for bad behavior. Rather, self compassion gives you a safe space to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings without feeling ashamed of them. Self compassion reminds you that you messed up because you’re a flawed person who is doing their best. Self compassion gives you the strength to try again – and to do better next time.
Activities to promote self compassion
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways to challenge critical self-talk and embrace a more compassionate state of mind. This form of therapy helps you to identify and challenge negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors, so you can deal with them in a healthy way. You will explore and identify where there is a block in your life. You will also look at the beliefs you hold about yourself and how they affect your well-being. The clinicians at Flourish Psychology are trained in this kind of therapy. Schedule a free consult to get matched with a therapist who best meets your needs.
Journaling is an especially useful tool for encouraging self compassion. Take the time to write about a situation that is causing you distress, guilt or shame. Then write a response from the perspective of a loving friend who can see the situation more objectively.
Why not come up with a self-compassion mantra that you can repeat to yourself whenever you need to? Examples include “I am going through a hard time and I will be kind to myself.” Try to use your mantra to counter any intrusive or unkind thoughts. Be mindful of when you are being harsh or critical towards yourself. Sometimes these thoughts are so frequent and common that we don’t even notice. Stop and ask yourself whether you’re really being fair and whether you would be speaking to a friend in this critical manner.
Self compassion is a deliberate practice that becomes easier over time. It may be difficult at first, but it’s sure to have long-lasting effects for your mental health and wellbeing.