Developing a healthy practice of self-compassion starts with practicing authentic self-love — which can be cultivated with some simple daily routines.
We all have an innate compassionate instinct for caring for others, but you have to deliberately practice compassion for yourself.
We need to shine the compassionate beam in both directions.
You have to offer yourself self-care if you want to keep from depleting yourself to the point of having no energy to extend compassion to others. When you practice compassion for yourself despite your flaws, it extends to being more forgiving of others’ flaws, accepting them as they are — imperfect beings! By taking better care of yourself, you become a better caretaker for others.
Self-compassion comes first, then you can radiate it to others. You should give yourself the same caring attention you would give a dear friend or family member. You need to be a compassionate ally to yourself by cultivating an inner friend who can dispel your fears and temper your self-criticism.
Self-compassion emanates from self-love. In her book Madly in Love with Me, Christine Arylo offers this definition of self-love:
“Self-love is the unconditional, unwavering love and respect that you give to yourself so that you only choose loving situations and relationships, including the one with yourself, that are full of love and respect.”
Kristin Neff, pioneering researcher on self-compassion, tells us that self-compassion has three core components — and you have to have all of them to be truly self-compassionate.
- Self-Kindness — Being gentle and understanding with yourself rather than harshly critical and judgmental.
- Recognizing Our Common Humanity— When we perceive our experiences as part of the larger human experience, we accept that everyone has to deal with life’s challenges. As a result, we feel connected with others rather than feeling isolated in our suffering.
- Mindfulness— The goal is to be able to hold difficult thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness, neither ignoring nor exaggerating our pain.
When you are self-compassionate you learn to be okay with your imperfections (“I’m not perfect, but I have many good qualities.”). You acknowledge that you are struggling just like every other human being on the planet (“Life can be hard for everyone. I’m not alone.”). You accept what is happening with mindful attention without denying it or blowing it out of proportion (“This is difficult, but if I keep it in perspective I can get through it”).
Treating yourself compassionately, especially when confronting difficult times, leads to greater well-being. The abundant research shows that when you nurture yourself with self-compassion you are able to:
- Temper your inner critic
- Sooth your negative emotions
- Lower your stress and anxiety
- Increase your capacity for coping
- Build up your resilience
- Have more enduring feelings of self-worth
- Enjoy greater life satisfaction
- Experience more happiness and optimism
Compassion for yourself, as well as compassion for others, needs to be cultivated. Developing both capacities requires intentional practices to blossom to their full potential. Practicing self-compassion is a way to rein in your inner critic and replace it with a voice of support, understanding and care. When you can extend self-compassion to yourself, your sense of self-worth is less easily toppled because it’s not contingent on your achievements or on others’ judgments or approval.
Having compassion for yourself is as important as having compassion for others. While you might expect self-compassion and compassion for others to be highly correlated, they aren’t. You don’t need to have self-compassion in order to have compassion for others. There is near zero correlation between self-compassion and compassion for others. This means they operate almost totally independently, so having the capacity for one is not related to the other. In fact, many of us who freely extend compassion to others neglect to send it flowing our own way.
When we adopt a kinder mindset toward ourselves, we realize our worth is not contingent on our successes and achievements and we come to accept our personal histories that cannot be changed.
Self-compassion has to be developed with intentional practices. A self-compassion practice that has served me well is learning to squelch the inner voice of the critical evaluator and replace it with the constructive advocate.
By becoming more attuned to the berating self-talk going on in my head, I came to an important insight. I noticed that when I was being critical of myself, I would address myself by my last name. So I might be saying to myself, “Larrivee, you’re so pathetic. Why do you keep getting yourself in the same messes?” But when I was showing myself a little self-compassion, I would use my nickname. So I might be saying to myself “It’s okay Barb, you can disappoint someone to align with your own integrity.”
What this realization meant for me is that when I was lambasting myself, by merely switching to my nickname I could transform my critical self-talk to a kinder, gentler tone. If this rings true for you, make the shift to addressing yourself using ‘terms of endearment’ — your nickname, honey, or whatever term connotes loving kindness.
Building self-compassion into your daily routines, both at home and at work, can be as simple as making time for a few small acts of self-care.
A good way to learn to become a trusting guardian to yourself is by transforming your inner conversations to ease the negative storylines jogging through your mind. When you’re going through something difficult or when you’re just down on yourself, try using some of these simple practices to offer yourself compassion.
- Be a kind voice in your head. Pause often to ask yourself if your self-talk is being a friend to you? If not, shift to a kinder, gentler tone.
- Repeat this phrase to yourself: “I breathe in acceptance, I breathe out self-criticism.”
- Label exactly what you’re feeling by giving it a name. Are you feeling worthless, unappreciated, overwhelmed? It lessens reactivity by bringing on board the rational part of the brain.
- Give yourself a hug and hold it for a few seconds. It’s a quick way to comfort yourself and give yourself some loving kindness.
- Imagine your best friend describing your qualities to someone. Then relish in that feeling of knowing how much you are appreciated.
- Look in a mirror and pick one thing you like about yourself. It could be external or internal.
- Gently stroke your palms and arms for a minute. Self-stroking can be as soothing as being touched by others.
Above all, remember to take care of yourself.
You can’t pour from an empty cup.—Unknown
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