— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.
Have you ever found yourself being harder on yourself than you would be on a friend?
We set high standards, push ourselves, and then criticize ourselves. In doing this, we often neglect the most important person in our lives—ourselves.
But there’s a science-backed way to overcome that self-negativity, called self-compassion.
Self-compassion is treating yourself the way you would treat your best friend. Some people are naturally self-compassionate, but those who aren’t can learn this skill.
Once you learn this practice, it can help you relate to yourself better, judge yourself less harshly, and have more self-acceptance.
Learn why being self-compassionate can improve your mental health and how to practice it in everyday life.
[Find the downloadable PDF link in the Final Words section below.]
Table of Contents
4 Actionable Ways To Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion helps you feel moved by your pain and want to relieve of it. It opens the door to self-love and self-empathy.
With self-compassion, we realize that we’re all flawed and must forgive ourselves. And so, we must be kind to ourselves while dealing with life’s challenges.
Here is how you can practice self-compassion:
1. Take A Self-Compassion Break.
A self-compassion break can be a quick yet powerful way to reduce stress on a challenging day, all within 5–7 minutes.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the world’s foremost authority on self-compassion, its practice must touch on three crucial elements: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness (2003a; 2003b).
Part 1: Being Mindful
First, start your self-compassion break by taking a moment to recognize the stress or emotional discomfort you feel in your body.
Say to yourself a simple phrase like “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts.”
Those words invite you to be mindful, helping you gather your attention from other things to focus on the present moment, and be fully aware of your situation.
In self-compassion theory, mindfulness is acknowledging and naming your emotions, instead of trying to avoid or over-identify with them (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Neff, 2010).
To illustrate the power of mindfulness, consider a study by researchers O’Mahony & Gerhart (2017). They worked with 13 medical providers who regularly cared for terminally ill or bereaved children.
These providers often felt work burnout and stress due to the emotional toll. They were given 9 weeks of group-based mindfulness training.
The results were remarkable: Their levels of depression and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) significantly decreased.
Take a step toward self-compassion by acknowledging your difficult situation. Simply tell yourself, “(Your name), this is a moment of suffering. It’s okay to admit that it hurts.”
Part 2: Recognizing Common Humanity
Second, acknowledge your emotions as an integral part of the human experience. This part fosters a deeper sense of connection and belonging with others who, just like you, face their unique trials and hardships.
We need to do this because it is an innate desire and a fundamental characteristic of humans to connect with others (Maslow, 1943). Positive psychologists often emphasize the idea of “being a part of something bigger.”
When you interpret a painful experience not as an isolated event happening to you alone but as a part of the rich tapestry of the human experience, you identify with the common humanity (Neff, 2003a).
This essence of common humanity is about recognizing your own common humanity and granting yourself the grace to be imperfect.
Take a moment to tell yourself, “Suffering is a natural part of human life. You’re not alone. Everyone goes through this at some point.”
Part 3: Showing Self-kindness
Third, the final step of your self-compassion break, is where you extend kindness and understanding to yourself. This part is about being gentle with your mistakes and faults.
Self-kindness is “being there” and feeling your own pain with empathy when you get emotionally hurt, instead of judging yourself negatively.
This is the essence of self-kindness: Giving yourself the concession that you’re only human and are doing your best.
When you acknowledge the negative influence of self-judgment, you can treat yourself with kindness and patience instead of and self-criticism (Gilbert & Irons, 2005).
To complete this step, wrap your arms around yourself, and whisper, “May I be kind to myself. May I start to embrace myself. May I find strength within.”
2. Give Yourself Some Supportive Touch.
This is an even quicker and more helpful way to nurture self-compassion: give yourself some supportive touch.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and embrace yourself with a warm, squeezing hug.
A self-hug comforts your physical body and also nourishes your inner self with a dose of self-compassion.
A supportive touch, like a loving hug, can do an incredible thing. It can activate your vagus nerve, which will then conduct a wave of relaxation throughout your body.
This leads to a drop in your heart rate and a decrease in cortisol (“stress hormone”), making you feel more at ease.
Moreover, physical touch triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” This chemical makes you feel secure and cared for.
But hugging yourself is just one way to do it. Here are a few more:
- Find a comfortable spot and lie down, allowing your body to fully relax.
- Treat yourself to some nourishing, wholesome food, savoring each bite.
- Take a leisurely stroll through a serene natural park, connecting with nature.
- Give your shoulders and lower back a gentle rub, relieving tension and promoting relaxation.
These simple acts of self-kindness can go a long way in nurturing self-compassion. So, go ahead, give yourself that supportive touch—you truly deserve it.
3. Write Yourself A Self-compassion Letter.
Now, let’s explore the powerful practice of writing a self-compassion letter.
- Identify the Issue: Start by identifying a troubling issue or situation that’s on your mind. Take a moment to sit down and write about it, allowing your feelings to flow freely.
- Imagine Your Unconditional Friend: Imagine a friend who knows your strengths and weaknesses, someone who loves you unconditionally. Now, write a heartfelt letter to yourself from the perspective of this friend, emphasizing their unwavering, loving acceptance of you.
- Secure and Reflect: Once you’ve written the letter, put it away somewhere safe. Bring it out and read it again after a few days. You’ll be surprised at how this can cultivate self-compassion within you.
Another way to do this is to recall a painful situation, like a difficult breakup, an opportunity loss, or criticism at work.
Write a self-compassion letter to yourself, describing the situation exactly as it happened, without placing blame on anyone, including yourself. Doing this can help calm your mind.
Here’s a sample:
Dear [Your Name],
Life has been challenging of late. Right now, it seems too difficult to handle the obstacle you’re facing.
Just focus on one step ahead. Just take one step at a time. That’s all you need to do now.
I want to remind you of the incredible strength and resilience you possess. This time, too, you’re being courageous and determined.
Everyone faces challenges, and they are a natural part of the human experience. To cope with them, we all must treat ourselves with understanding and empathy. Be your best friend first.
Take a moment to appreciate your journey so far. Look back on how far you have come. Acknowledge your successes, growth, and progress.
Know that you are unique and valued, and that your attempts and contributions make a difference.
Be kind to yourself in these times. Ask your inner self, what self-care it desires from you.
Allow yourself to take breaks. Do things that bring you happiness. Like spending time in nature, visiting your city as a tourist, picking up an exciting hobby, or re-connecting with loved ones.
You deserve appreciation and care, not judgment and criticism. Know that your self-critical thoughts are not always telling you the truth.
If you feel overwhelmed dealing with your difficult emotions on your own, know that you are not alone in your struggles, and it’s okay to seek support when you require it.
With love and support,
4. Treat Yourself As You Would Treat Your Friend.
When you choose to embrace self-compassion, you’re essentially extending the same tender-hearted kindness to yourself that you readily offer to your dearest friend or loved one.
Here’s how you can put this into practice:
- Recall Joyful Moments: Reflect on the times when you’ve taken your friend to a place that filled them with joy and excitement. Now, imagine if you have taken yourself to visit that same place and savor the happiness it brings.
- Write It Out: Grab a piece of paper and jot down what you would say and do for a close friend who’s going through a tough time. Then, compare it to how you treated yourself the last time you made a mistake. Take note of the differences in your responses.
- Imagine a Better Approach: Next, envision how things would improve if you treated yourself with the same compassion and support you gave to a close friend. Just embrace the idea that it’s perfectly okay to be human, make mistakes, and be imperfect. Making those occasional, even deliberate, mistakes is a gentle reminder that you’re not alone in your imperfection.
- Watch Your Self-Talk: Be watchful about your self-talk. If the words you say to yourself aren’t something you would utter to a friend in bad times, reconsider them. Choose kindness and understanding, just as you would for a dear friend.
Treating yourself as you treat your friends is a beautiful way to nurture self-compassion. You deserve the same care and empathy for yourself that you readily offer to others.
A Self-Compassionate Note to Myself:
Hey [Your Name],
Just a friendly reminder that you are my best friend. Yep, you read that right.
I’ve seen how you’ve always been there for others, offering your unwavering support and understanding. Now, it’s time to turn that kindness inwards, to yourself.
Let’s get one thing straight – nobody’s perfect, not even you. And that’s absolutely fine. Mistakes happen; it’s part of being human. So, no more beating yourself up over blunders and imperfections. You’ve got my patience and understanding on your side.
I promise to be gentle with you as you navigate through these challenging moments. Remember, you have a long list of strengths and achievements to your name. You’ve done so many wonderful things for others without a second thought – take pride in that.
I celebrated your victories, and now, as you face some struggles, I’m here to cheer you on, one step at a time. Focus on the next step, not the entire journey ahead.
How about treating yourself? Go catch that movie you’ve been wanting to see, embark on a solo adventure to that exotic restaurant, or pamper yourself with a spa day. Oh, and that holiday trip you’ve been daydreaming about? It’s time to make it happen.
Relax, enjoy, and remember, you’re allowed to take breaks, meet new people, explore new places, and reconnect with the incredible person that you are.
I promise to always offer compassion and empathy during your moments of self-doubt and difficulty. You’ve got so much to offer yourself, and your journey is a testament to your resilience and character.
Just so you know, I’m your biggest fan and your most devoted supporter. You’ll always have my love and encouragement, even when no one else is around.
With love and unwavering belief in you,
– [Your Name]
What are the benefits of self-compassion?
Neff, Rude, and Kirkpatrick (2006) found that self-compassion has positive associations with happiness, optimism, positive affect (mood), wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration, agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness.
- Self-compassionate people are mindful of their actions, are highly conscientious, intrinsically motivated, and less fearful of failures.
- They are more resilient, cheerful, and curious. People are happier and more optimistic when they practice self-compassion.
- Self-compassion practice helps you learn how to stop being so hard on yourself, and how to handle difficult emotions with greater ease.
- It also tells you how to encourage yourself, how to transform difficult relationships, both old and new, and how to include mindfulness meditation in your daily life.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you would show to a good friend. It is the practice of treating yourself with kindness and compassion, rather than with judgment, criticism, or punishment. It helps you understand and accept your feelings, and lets you experience negative emotions without judging or trying to change them. One of the best self-compassion practices is to write yourself a self-compassion letter.
What is mindful self-compassion?
Mindful self-compassion (MSC) is a new mental health development approach based on Buddhist philosophy to dealing with anxiety, stress, and depression. According to the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, MSC is “an evidence-based approach to cultivating self-kindness and compassion for oneself in difficult situations.” Practicing MSC can help you overcome stress and anxiety by cultivating a loving-kindness attitude toward yourself, and it can lead to improved happiness even in the face of adversity.
- “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Dr. Kristin Neff – This book recognizes how, by accepting our weaknesses and limitations, we can discover new self-confidence and contentment and reach our highest potential. It has many practical exercises. Dr. Kristin Neff is a renowned researcher in this field.
- “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook” by Dr. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer – This workbook offers practical exercises and activities for cultivating self-compassion. It’s based on the Mindful Self-Compassion program developed by Neff and Germer.
- “The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion” by Neff, K. D. (2003a) – This is one of Dr. Kristin Neff’s seminal research papers that defines the construct of self-compassion and describes the development of the Self-Compassion Scale.
- “Self-Compassion: Theory, Method, Research, and Intervention; Annual Review of Psychology” by Kristin D. Neff (2023) – This reviews the increasingly large number of empirical studies that indicate self-compassion is a productive way of approaching distressing thoughts and emotions that engender mental and physical well-being.
- “Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping” by Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2010) – This study suggests that self-compassionate people tend to rely heavily on positive cognitive restructuring and less on avoidance and escape.
- “Self-Compassion: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Relates to Mindfulness” by Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015) – This paper further expands on the theoretical framework of self-compassion, offering insights into its dimensions and applications over a decade-long work.
- “Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology” by Angus MacBeth & Andrew Gumley (2012) – This study established that increased self-compassion is linked to lower levels of mental health symptoms. And lower levels of self-compassion were associated with higher levels of psychopathology.
- “Positive self-statements: Power for some, peril for others” by Wood, J. V., Elaine Perunovic, W. Q., & Lee, J. W. (2009) – This study found that repeating positive self-statements (like “I’m a lovable person”) may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who “need” them the most.
- “Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions” by Barnard, L. K., & Curry, J. F. (2011) – This study reviews empirical work on the correlates of self-compassion, showing that self-compassion has consistently been found to be related to well-being. These findings support the call for interventions that can raise self-compassion.
- “Self-Compassion and Mental Health in Sexual and Gender Minority People” by Sérgio A. Carvalho and Raquel Guiomar (2022).
Download: How To Practice Self-Compassion PDF
Self-forgiveness is a crucial part of self-compassion. We all make mistakes. But when we learn from them, forgive ourselves, and move on, we become much better people.
Let’s close this with a beautiful insight from the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings. If we use self-compassion practice to make our pain go away by suppressing it or fighting against it, things will likely just worsen.
With self-compassion, we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation.
√ Please share it with someone if you found this helpful.
• Our Story!