Self-Compassion: What Is It and How You Can Practice Today
Updated: Mar 7
Take a minute to consider how you treat yourself when you have failed to reach a goal or made another mistake. Suppose you tend to criticize and turn judgmental towards yourself. In that case, you, like many, can benefit from a little more self-compassion.
So far, research has revealed several benefits of self-compassion. Consistent self-compassion is linked to better well-being, happiness, improved relationships, life satisfaction, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Likewise, it helps people better tolerate emotions such as sadness, insecurity, grief, shame, and anger. So, if you're looking for spaces to find improvement in your life, I would recommend beginning with self-compassion.
What is self-compassion?
The simple answer is — having compassion for yourself is really no different than having compassion for others. You may feel warmth, caring, or the desire to help someone through a difficult time.
Before we continue, stop for another moment to think about the experience of what compassion feels like when you share it with others. How present and kind are you with them? How supportive? Typically, when our close friends and family members go through struggles, we react in understanding and thoughtful ways. The challenge, however, is to extend the same attitude and attention to us when we like ourselves the least.
Therefore, self-compassion refers to finding healthy ways of supporting oneself in times of suffering, failure, mistakes, inadequacies, or general life difficulties. The concept asks you to find a non-judgmental approach of comfort and care for yourself, much like you would with someone you love and respect.
Critical Inventory: How self-compassionate are you?
Below are some common signs that there is a lack of self-compassion.
Ask yourself how often you:
Compare yourself to others
Are you critical of yourself
Get stuck in feeling inadequacy
Put pressure on yourself to do or be more instead of recognizing what you have accomplished.
What would you notice?
Self-compassionate people try to understand themselves, learn to be patient, and accept and give themselves a break when needed. So much of everything around our focus is on external events and validation. The key to self-compassion and happiness requires learning to look and sit inside yourself.
The Elements of Self-Compassion
At its foundation, learning to have compassion for yourself means that you respect and accept your humanness. You're human. A person who is capable of both failures and success. You are someone unique and unlike any other person. If we're constantly looking at the gifts of others, we lose sight of our talents. Recognizing the human condition to fail, experience losses, and make mistakes can help center you.
Below are four elements that can help guide you towards acceptance.
Our experiences and other people can diminish and make us believe we have little worth. Everyday life can influence and distort our thinking so much that it becomes impossible to accept who we are. Self-acceptance isn't giving into past events; it is establishing a caring relationship with yourself that recognizes you are someone with flaws or imperfections. Self-acceptance understands you have a personal identity that is all yours. It is a learned behavior and a non-judgmental practice of embracing what sets you apart and makes you different.
Gratitude and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a skill that anyone can do, and it involves learning how to be present at the moment. If you feel disconnected from yourself, I talk about how to reconnect here. Since it's a skill, it can be learned through consistency. It involves simply taking a moment and paying attention or "noticing" what's happening in front of you. By turning our attention to the present, we teach ourselves to break free from being stuck on uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, worries of tomorrow, or information from the past.
Likewise, gratitude is an antidote to sadness and depression. So, I challenge you the next time you are stuck comparing yourself or having difficulty believing in yourself — turn to the things you are grateful for. When our minds become flooded with external information, gratitude is an excellent reminder of the successes in our lives.
Having experienced setbacks in my life, I've felt as though no one understood what I was going through. It felt lonely and isolating. When I read of this concept, I felt comforted because acknowledging common humanity teaches us that the struggles, we go through are shared, in some way, with many others. Informally, common humanity means "you are not alone."
Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin says, "the very definition of being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect" (2009). She argues that suffering and personal inadequacies are something we all share. Therefore, when you are struggling and comparing yourself to someone else, know that individual is most likely doing the same.
Living through your values
The concept of values is my favorite and what I turn to when I need direction the most. If you have difficulty recognizing your identity, feel lost, or distant from yourself, turn to what you value.
Values ask us:
What's most important to you?
Who do you want to be? Or,
How would you like to be perceived?
What are your goals and why?
Living by your values and moving toward the things that are most important to you creates an opportunity that develops respect and limits judgment for yourself. When you are living life in a way that suits you, there is less need for criticism.
Okay, so now that we've discussed self-compassion, how about we identify how you can begin developing it?
Below are a few suggestions for building self-compassion.
Give yourself praise, acknowledgment, and encouragement.
Imagine the conversation you would have or the text message you would send to a friend who had been facing a stressful situation. Think about the words you would share to let them know you support them. You're not thinking about whether or not they will accept your comments fully and make a complete turnaround. You just want them to feel comforted and know someone is in their corner.
When you find yourself in a similar situation, channel the same attention you would give a friend. Turn negativity into a set of responses you can give yourself. Use mantras or positive affirmations to guide you through difficulty when you feel stuck. Here is a quick guide on how to do it in 5 Minutes or Less.
Important point: If you minimally or have given yourself encouragement, it may not feel authentic. Look at the small wins, believe them, and learn to accept them. With small wins, you can give attention to your successes more often.
Reframe negative thoughts.
Your thoughts hold much power and can influence your day, week, month, or year. Suppose you have succumbed to negativity or self-defeating thoughts. In that case, it will never feel like you can overcome that barrier or struggle.
Reframing negative thoughts or viewing your thoughts from another perspective can be challenging because it's like anything else you experience; you have to learn the process. The thoughts are not you, nor do they define you; they're just information. Learning to see thoughts as what they are assists in distancing from them. Here is a list of techniques you can use to reframe negative thoughts.
Confront your inner critic.
When exploring the concept of the "inner critic," I realized that my inner voice had been with me at every point in my life; both when I succeeded and failed. However, it was the loudest when I had failed and showed up again in similar situations to remind me not to step out of my comfort zone again. Your inner critic's mission is to protect you from things outside your comfort zone. While this is safe and secure in the short term, it doesn't help you grow into the person you can be.
I suggest a couple things. Name your inner critic. Get honest and direct with the internal dialogue that pops up, such as, "Oh, there is that inner critic again wanting to keep me from doing ___." Also, I recommend exploring the purpose behind the thoughts. Ask yourself, what am I saying to myself? What does my inner critic want and why? What thoughts are valid, and how would it sound if I were kind to myself? Creating a separate dialogue apart from your inner critic allows you to distance yourself from the trap of negativity.
Practice eliminating the word "should" from your vocabulary.
Seriously. Visually take the word should, ball it up, and toss it in the trash can. I want to ask you something, and I want you to be honest. What are the benefits of constantly telling yourself you should be doing this or that? Positive feelings typically don't arise when we remind ourselves of what we should be doing and aren't doing with our time or lives. Constantly should-ing exclusively highlights mistakes, creates comparisons to others, and guides us towards regret.
Should doesn't exist in the present. It exists in the past and future and endorses the idea you should be doing or saying things differently than you usually would. It implies "there is more" and can trigger perfectionism, shame, high expectations, stress, and insecurities. The underlying message I hear is."
If we're honest, it doesn't influence motivation. Instead, it creates perfectionism and thoughts that suggest "what I'm doing is wrong or not good enough." When we tell ourselves that we should do something, be something, or feel something, we do the opposite of accepting and judging ourselves. There is no right way to do something or the right way to be. Loosening our standards or rules for ourselves can help us be more self-compassionate.
Self-compassion is an emotional attitude towards yourself, a practice, and a learned skill. Belief doesn't originate from a thought. It comes with time and consistency. Self-compassion feels natural when you commit to reminding yourself of your skills, talents, successes, small wins, and uniqueness daily. It is a matter of being kind to yourself, supportive, patient, understanding, and caring. Likewise, it's an attitude that becomes a belief in recognizing you are enough because you are.
If this is an area that you've wanted to focus on or need a new skill, give it a shot today. What do you have to lose?
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The benefits of self-compassion. Human Development. (2009). “The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/