If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
Self-love may seem an essential component of emotional wellness. After all, if we can’t love ourselves, how can we ever hope to form loving relationships with others?
But for many of us, the idea of self-love feels more aspirational than attainable. Nice in theory, but a bit… unrealistic.
If you feel this way, too, take heart. There’s an alternative:
Self-compassion: extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or suffering.
Comprised of 3 components (mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness), self-compassion practiced over time promotes active self-care and resilience to stress.
And that leads to improved emotional wellness.
So, bottom line?
When self-love feels out of reach, aim for self-compassion instead.
Today we’re sharing 4 simple ways you can practice self-compassion:
1. Check in (with yourself).
Having self-compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
When was the last time you paused in the course of your day to focus completely on yourself? Doing so gives you a chance to assess your basic stats: your energy level, physical cues like sweaty palms or a racing heart, and emotions like anger or guilt.
Take a minute, put down whatever you’re doing, and practice checking in with yourself.
Try this: Be still and concentrate on your breathing. Then ask yourself:
- What is my energy like right now? Am I feeling tired, excited, agitated…?
- How is my body feeling? Am I relaxed, tense, hungry, in pain…?
- What emotion(s) am I feeling right now? Excitement, ambivalence, fear, relief, etc.?
2. Practice forgiveness (of yourself).
An important aspect of self-compassion is to be able to empathically hold both parts of ourselves: The self that regrets a past action and the self that took the action in the first place.
For some of us, checking in with ourselves in the present moment can be difficult. For others, the greater challenge is in recalling our past mistakes and finding a way to forgive.
Try this: Think of a past choice you made that you deeply regret. Then ask yourself:
- What were the consequences of that choice? Why do I feel so regretful about it? What else do I feel (e.g., ashamed, resentful)?
- What feelings, beliefs, or events led me to make that choice at that time? Why did it feel like the right choice to me then?
- I can’t change the choice I made, but I can change how I react to the choice I made. What if I acknowledged the hurts and misunderstandings that led me to make that choice? What if I offered myself forgiveness for acting as I did at the time? How might my life feel different tomorrow if I chose to forgive myself today?
3. Be a friend (to yourself).
If you are continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others, you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to feelings of separation and isolation.
Try this (exercise adapted from Kristin Neff, PhD):
- Imagine a good friend is feeling especially bad about themselves or really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation? What would you do? What would you say, and in what tone of voice would you say it?
- Now think of a time when you felt bad about yourself or were struggling. How would you typically respond to yourself? What would you do? What would you tell yourself, and in what tone would you say it?
- Did you notice a difference? Why? What factors, beliefs, and fears might be leading you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- How might things feel different if change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
4. Keep a self-compassion journal.
When hard times come, the greatest danger does not necessarily lie in the circumstances we face, but rather in the way we treat ourselves at the time. Nothing is more dangerous than self-hate. Nothing makes it more difficult to heal or to find the grace of peace than self-attack and the agony of self-doubt.
Try keeping a daily self-compassion journal for one week. At the end of each day, spend a few minutes reviewing the day’s events. In your journal, write down anything that you felt bad about, anything you judged yourself for, or any difficult experience that caused you pain.
Try this (exercise adapted from Kristin Neff, PhD): For each event, use the following 3 components to help process what happened in a self-compassionate way:
- Mindfulness. What painful emotions came up as a result of your self-judgment or difficult circumstances? As you write, try to be accepting and nonjudgmental of your experience, neither minimizing it nor exaggerating it.
- Common humanity. In what ways was your experience connected to the larger human experience? This could include recognizing that being human means being imperfect, and that painful experiences are universal. (“It’s only human to become impatient at times.”)
- Self-kindness. Write down some kind, understanding, words of comfort to yourself. Let yourself know that you care about yourself, using a gentle, reassuring tone.
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Ready to take the next step toward self-compassion?