Have you lately been irritated with yourself for no apparent reason? Are you always judging and criticizing yourself? If so, you’re probably suffering from a lack of self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with kindness and compassion, rather than with judgment, criticism, or punishment. In practicing self-compassion, you understand and accept your feelings. It means you let yourself experience negative emotions without judging or trying to change them.Self-compassion is when you meet and treat yourself as your good friend, with attention, acceptance, warmth, and kindness. Click To Tweet
How can you practice self-compassion?
When you practice self-compassion, you are loving, forgiving, and kind to yourself while going through the inevitable sufferings and sorrows of human life. It helps you identify as a part of common humanity and recognize that we are all imperfect beings.
Self-compassion comes naturally to some people, but not to everyone; fortunately, it is a skill we can learn. Here are four exercises to boost your self-compassion:
1. Self-compassion Break.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is a composite of three features: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness (Neff, 2003a; 2003b).
In self-compassion theory, mindfulness is considered the inverse of avoidance or over-identification—it requires acknowledging and categorizing our own thoughts rather than reacting to them (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Neff, 2010).
Exercise (Part 1): Imagine you are in a grief-laden or stressful situation. Tell yourself, “Buddy, this is a moment of suffering. It’s hurting you.” This part is mindfulness.
• Common humanity
A common theme in positive psychology literature is “being a part of something bigger.” The human urge to connect with others is an essential human characteristic (Maslow, 1943).
Having a sense of common humanity entails understanding our own experiences as an integral part of the larger human experience, rather than perceiving ourselves as isolated or different from others (Neff, 2003a).
Exercise (Part 2): Then, tell yourself, “Suffering is a natural part of human life. You’re not alone. Everyone goes through this at some point.” This part is common humanity.
Self-kindness is showing empathy and kindness to ourselves when we falter or get hurt. When we acknowledge the negative influence of self-judgment, we can treat ourselves with kindness and patience instead of criticizing or judging ourselves harshly (Gilbert & Irons, 2005).
Exercise (Part 3): Finally, give yourself a hug, and say, “May I be kind to myself. May I begin to accept myself. May I be strong.” This part is self-kindness.
2. Supportive Touch.
Close your eyes and give yourself a warm hug.
Every time you do something to comfort your physical body, you also soothe your inner being with a dose of self-compassion.
When you give yourself a supportive touch, like a loving hug, your vagus nerve gets activated. As a result, your heart rate decreases, your cortisol (“stress hormone”) levels drop, and you relax.
Physical touch also causes the release of oxytocin, popularly known as the “love hormone.” This gives you a sense of security and care.
Other than hugging yourself, try these:
- Lay down to relax your body.
- Treat yourself to some nutritious food.
- Gently rub your shoulders and lower back.
- Take a leisurely stroll through a natural park.
3. Self-compassion Letter.
Find an issue that is troubling you, and sit down to write about it. Remember to include your feelings.
Next, picture an imaginary friend who is aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and who loves you unconditionally. Write a letter to yourself from that friend, emphasizing his loving acceptance of you.
Put the letter away, somewhere secure, after you’ve finished writing it. Then, a few hours or days later, read it again. It will make you feel compassionate toward yourself.
And write a self-compassion letter to yourself describing the situation exactly as it happened, without blaming anyone, including yourself. This will calm down your frazzled mind.
You could also try writing mindfully.
4. Friend Treatment.
When you decide to be self-compassionate, you value and treat yourself with the same tender-hearted kindness that you show to your best friend and your most loved person.
Take a sheet of paper and write out what you would say and do for a close friend who is in distress. Then, write out everything you said and did to yourself when you committed your most recent mistake.
And take note of how different you were in each situation. Next, write down how things would be better if you treated yourself the same way you would treat a close friend.
Allow yourself to be human and make a few little deliberate mistakes on occasions. It is a great way to embrace your imperfections and remind yourself that you are not alone in being imperfect (Abrams, 2017).
What are the benefits of self-compassion?
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.
Neff, Rude, and Kirkpatrick (2006) found that self-compassion has positive associations with happiness, optimism, positive affect, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration, agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness.
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 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.
- Wood, J. V., Elaine Perunovic, W. Q., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive self-statements: Power for some, peril for others. Psychological Science, 20(7), 860-866.
- Barnard, L. K., & Curry, J. F. (2011). Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15(4), 289-303.
- Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333-371.
- Howell, A. J. (2016). Self-Affirmation Theory and the Science of Well-Being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(1), 293–311.
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.
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Did you know that the best thing you can do when having difficult emotions is to not fight or suppress them? Find out how you can embrace your negative emotions.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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