Few of us would berate a friend who was going through a rough time or impart harsh words on a stranger we saw suffering—and yet we may not hesitate to be that hard on ourselves. This is where self compassion, or acting toward ourselves the way we would toward someone else, can be helpful.
Beyond giving ourselves a much-needed break, there are lots of other benefits to self compassion, including increased resilience when it comes to life’s stressors, boosted feelings of happiness, and less anxiety and depression.
Note: If you worry that being compassionate toward yourself might lead to you being complacent or not achieving the things you want to do, rest assured that research shows the opposite is actually true. Through practicing self compassion, you actually become more likely to adopt a growth mindset and feel hopeful about the ways in which you can improve yourself and your life.
Read on to learn all about self compassion and how to bring this practice to your own life!
Self Compassion Definition: What Is Self Compassion?
Self compassion involves extending the same compassion we would offer to others—particularly those we care deeply about—to ourselves.
I like to think of self compassion as tending to my inner child. What would “young me” like to hear or feel in a given moment, and how can I make that happen?
Thinking of the younger, smaller version of ourselves can make it easier for us to soften. We probably wouldn’t be as aggressive or judgmental toward a small child as we may be with ourselves.
Self Compassion Means Accepting You Are Human—and Loving Yourself Anyway
Most of us want to continue growing and improving, but we might not always hit the mark. And that’s okay! Life is stressful enough without piling on self-judgments and harsh thoughts toward ourselves. When we start thinking we’re “never” going to get things right or that we don’t deserve good things because we aren’t “perfect,” it can be challenging to know how to redirect our thoughts and get to a more positive, balanced place.
Offering yourself acts of self compassion involves understanding that you are human and you will do things you regret. You will make mistakes. However, you can learn from these mistakes! Failing is a necessary part of life and simply means you are growing. Being kind to yourself throughout your transitions and the peaks and valleys of your experience will make becoming the person you want to be considerably easier along the way.
Self Compassion Has Three Core Elements
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a university professor and leading self compassion expert, self compassion consists of three things that you’ll rely on when you need to invoke compassion for yourself.
- Common humanity
As you can probably tell from its name, the first element, self-kindness, is simply about being nice to yourself. The second, common humanity, refers to the ability to see that we all do things we don’t like or have to deal with less-than-ideal qualities in ourselves. Finally, mindfulness means bringing your awareness to the present moment and staying there, without judgment.
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Self Compassion Exercises: How to Practice Self Compassion
Even if you don’t know much about acts of self compassion, it’s probably clear that offering some kindness toward yourself would feel kind of nice, at the very least. So, how can you start practicing self compassion right away? Try these tips to get started.
Do a Self Compassion Meditation
Dr. Neff offers a library of free, guided self compassion meditations you can use; these are perfect self compassion examples for the total beginner. They range from quick five-minute meditations to longer, half-hour talks, so you can fit them into your day, no matter how much time you have.
If guided meditations aren’t your thing, try setting a timer for a few minutes and, as you breathe in and out, focus on a self compassion-oriented mantra like, “I love myself” or “I accept myself.”
Seeing as mindfulness is one of the three components of self compassion outlined above, it makes sense that building a mindfulness practice will help you become more compassionate toward yourself.
Mindfulness allows you to be present in your life without judgment and to accept what is, without assigning any value beyond that. As you become more accustomed to being mindful, you create space between your go-to reactions; within that space, you can choose a different behavior.
For example, if you usually judge yourself immediately for getting someone’s name wrong, you might start to take a pause in those moments and reassure yourself that you’re doing your best before correcting yourself and apologizing.
To begin your mindfulness practice, look for mindfulness meditations that work for your preferences, whether that’s an active meditation like a nature walk or a guided meditation.
Connect With Groups of People Who Share Your Lived Experience
Feeling seen or validated by others can sometimes help us stop being so hard on ourselves. When you feel like you’re an outlier for feeling or looking a certain way or struggling with something particular, that can be very isolating. Hearing that others feel the same can make a huge difference.
Seek out groups in which you’ll have things in common with the other participants—you may be surprised how much you identify with some of the people you meet and the self compassion examples they may set for you. The bonus here is that you may also develop fulfilling relationships, which is always a good thing.
Write a Few Self Compassion Scripts
If you notice you jump straight to criticizing yourself in certain situations, try journaling out a script you can use in the future. It helps to think about what you’d say to a loved one who was going through the same situation.
For instance, if your best friend was late to work and was down on themselves about it, what would you say to them? You would probably reassure them that this was not a catastrophic failure and that it’s totally understandable to be late sometimes—and that maybe they could add in some buffer time to their commute in the future to avoid feeling this way again.
Then, the next time you’re late, you can pull out the words you would have used with your friend and apply them to yourself. Remember, a little bit of understanding can go a long way, and being gentle with yourself can help you actually implement changes you want to make.
If Something Really Bothers You, Take (Loving) Action
You can see in the example above that if you’re always late, perhaps self compassion involves not only accepting the humanness of your situation but also reorganizing your schedule a little to prevent this problem in the future. If you find yourself coming back to something again and again and being critical about it, consider whether there’s a loving action you can take or a personal development goal you can set that will create a positive shift in the future.
As we touched on earlier, being compassionate with yourself doesn’t mean being complacent and never wanting to improve. It just means being understanding of the reality that you won’t always get everything right, even when you’re trying your best—and you can be nice to yourself as you move forward and try again.
Set Boundaries in Your Life
Part of being compassionate with yourself is addressing things that harm you and drawing lines to preserve your mental and emotional health. If you struggle with never feeling like you’re doing enough at work, self compassion might look like meditating and journaling to accept yourself and the work that you do, while also setting boundaries around how much work you’ll take on and how to communicate what your limits are.
Focus on What You Love About Yourself
There is only one you in the world, and that’s really special. Make an effort to celebrate the good things that make you, you!
If you’re having a hard time coming up with a list of things you’re proud of or that you enjoy about yourself, ask a couple of people who love you to come up with some and send them your way. Then compile a list and review it frequently to remind yourself of your amazing, unique qualities.
You Deserve Your Own Compassion More Than Anyone
At the end of the day, the only person you can consistently count on to take care of you is, well, you. So isn’t it worth it to try to take good care? Through the tips above, you can build in little moments of self compassion that grow into something larger over time.
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