Starting and Struggling with Self-Compassion
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
Have you ever heard the phrase that we’re our own worst critics? Perhaps when falling short of goals you’ve experienced feelings of inadequacy, or an inner voice telling you “You’re not doing it right”. If you can relate to similar thoughts or feelings, then you are not alone. These thoughts are common for many people, yet there are ways that we can learn to accept ourselves and be patient with ourselves through fostering self-compassion. So, you might be thinking well what exactly is self-compassion and where do I sign up?
One of the leading experts on self-compassion, Dr. Kristen Neff, explains self-compassion as “The ability to notice our own suffering and to be moved by it, making us want to actively do something to alleviate our own suffering”.
To help grasp the concept of self-compassion and identify what self-compassion might currently look like for you, I invite you to do a short exercise. Imagine that you don’t achieve your goal or that you make a mistake. How might you perceive yourself and feel about yourself? Now, imagine that a friend or a loved one tells you that they didn’t achieve their goal or that they felt as if they did something wrong; how might you react? Would your reaction differ? If so, do you think that you might be tougher and more critical of yourself compared to your friend? If you’re thinking “yes”, then you are not alone.
Understanding the Elements of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion includes three main elements known as self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Together, these 3 components encourage individuals to strengthen their relationship with themselves, becoming an inner ally instead of an inner critic.
Self-Kindness – It can be easy to allow ourselves to engage in constant self-judgment and self-criticism, especially when you have goals to better yourself. However, these thoughts and perspectives of yourself are often more harmful than helpful. Self-kindness encourages a sense of calmness and security through unconditional acceptance of ourselves.
Common Humanity – Common humanity involves understanding that all humans share many basic similarities and encourages viewing our own individual experiences within the broader context of society. These similarities include the occurrence of unpleasant feelings and the desire to avoid suffering. We must recognize that we are not alone in feeling hurt or being critical of ourselves. With that recognition, we also accept and forgive ourselves as difficulties and shortcomings are common among people.
Mindfulness – Mindfulness has become increasingly recognized, as it encourages individuals to dedicate non-judgemental awareness to what is happening in the present. Rather than becoming consumed by our inner-critic and reacting to our negative thoughts, the incorporation of mindfulness allows us to acknowledge and label our thoughts while maintaining perspective and understanding difficult emotions that arise.
Exercises to Practice and Promote Self-Compassion
Given that our most intertwined and constant relationship is with ourselves, accepting yourself and building inner strength has numerous benefits, including lower levels of depression, anxiety, stress, and shame. Additionally, people with more self-compassion often experience higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-confidence, and greater physical health. Here are a few common exercises to help you foster and maintain your self-compassion:
Do a self-compassion check-in – Remember that exercise above used to determine how you might show compassion to a friend versus yourself? That’s a simple way that you can check-in with your own self-compassion! Are you treating yourself as if you’d want a friend to treat you? By using this check-in, review areas or elements that you can improve upon while also acknowledging your strengths and struggles throughout your day.
Keep a self-compassion journal – Whether or not journaling is something that you’ve explored, keeping a daily journal to reflect and process your day is beneficial and can help cultivate self-compassion. By expressing emotions through writing, you can explore challenging experiences that might have led your inner critic to come out. Over the course of keeping your self-compassion journal, you can also assess your growth and your evolving relationship with self-compassion.
Give yourself a hug – Although it may sound silly, physical touch can help you provide yourself with a sense of security, leading to calmness and the alleviation of distressing emotions. If ever you’re feeling that journaling or reflecting about negative experiences is too overwhelming or daunting, try giving yourself a gentle and caring hug.
Overcoming Challenges in Maintaining Self-Compassion
If you’ve tried to practice self-compassion, or even as your read this article, you may be thinking “well what if it doesn’t work” or “it’s easier said than done”. These thoughts are normal and finding ways to foster and maintain self-compassion can look different for everyone. So, how can we set ourselves up to successfully maintain our self-compassion? Here are some tips:
First, start small and try to stay consistent – Cultivating self-compassion can be hard at times and requires patience with yourself. Practicing acts of self-compassion daily will help you when you need it most! If you do find yourself falling off the self-compassion schedule, that is okay! Be patient. Recognize that this is normal. Then start again.
Second, when we don’t know where to start or we feel stuck, start by doing a self-compassion check-in – Think about what happened during your day. Why might the inner critic be coming out instead of the inner ally?
Third, make self-compassion pleasant and enjoy it! – Self-compassion can be wonderful as you develop your inner strength and learn to accept yourself! It can help stimulate a positive mindset while also boosting your emotional and mental health!
Overall, self-compassion can be hard to maintain but it is well worth it. At the end of the day, our most consistent and present relationship is with ourselves. Learning to accept yourself, including perceived imperfections and hardships won’t happen overnight. It will take practice and hard work. But through the journey, remember that self-compassion can be present. Self-compassion can help you reframe your struggles while uncovering your strengths!
Moore, C. (2019). How to Practice Self-Compassion: 8 Techniques and Tips. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/how-to-practice-self-compassion/
Neff, K. D. (2020). What is Self-Compassion?. Self Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/