Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.— Christopher Germer
Most of us from a young age are taught how to be kind, considerate, and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. This becomes even more true for individuals brought up in abusive or unloving homes.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is how we can relate to the self with kindness, recognizing that personal inadequacy and shortcomings are part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone. But what does it mean to be kind to ourselves? It means being gentle and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flogging ourselves with self-criticism. Why is this important? Because exercising self-compassion helps us recognize our inherent worth and value.
The Psychological studies on self-compassion have also revealed an abundance of mental and physical health benefits to practicing self-compassion, including a significant reduction in feelings of anxiety, depression, and negative self-directed rumination; improvement in overall motivation, self-worth, general satisfaction, and optimism about the future; improved resilience; and deeper connections with others,
Now that you know the what and why of self-compassion, let’s look at the how.
How to Cultivate Self-Compassion
Some people come by self-compassion naturally, but not everyone does. The good news is it is a learnable skill, and training programs are being developed to help people discover and cultivate their own self-compassion. Here are four ways to give your self-compassion skills a quick boost:
Treat yourself as you would a small child: You would never harshly judge or belittle a small child the way you do yourself. You would only want to help and love that child. When you begin to treat yourself as you would a small child, you begin to show yourself the same love, gentleness, and kindness.
Practice Mindfulness - Self-compassion is deeply related to mindfulness, as it allows us to turn to ourselves, recognize our inner world, and observe thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. This allows us to be receptive to the present moment, not “over-identified” with negative or painful emotions, thoughts, or experiences, and be caught up and swept away by negative reactivity. Check out my personal favorite free guided meditation scripts that are available through The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion to deepen your mindful practice.
Be your own best friend - the next time you notice a critical thought or reject feeling about yourself, ask yourself how you would respond to a beloved friend who thought or felt that way about themselves? Would you be as critical or kind and compassionate? Apply this to yourself.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes- Forgiveness is paramount for self-compassion. Everyone makes mistakes, but learning from these errors, letting go, and forgiving yourself is crucial for overall mental health and well-being. Depending on the mistake, this can be a very daunting task, but keep in mind that forgiveness is not about letting yourself off the hook... It is about accepting what has happened while you are willing to let go and move past it without ruminating over circumstances that cannot be changed.
These are just a few ways you can begin to cultivate self-compassion. If you’d like to explore more options or talk to someone about your feelings of self-rejection and judgment, please get in touch with me. I’d be happy to discuss how therapy may help.
Netsanet Tegegn, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist in Virginia Beach who provides individualized counseling services for those who wish to create long-lasting and positive changes in their lives...