You’re your worst critic. No one can make you feel worse than that voice in your head that criticizes you for every wrong thing you do. While it is good to recognize mistakes to correct them, constant criticism can wear you out.
For you to cope during times of stress and suffering, it is essential to practice self-compassion. Read on to learn what this practice entails and which techniques you can use to employ it.
What Is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is a positive attitude one adopts towards themselves to change their perspective and improve their well-being. The term was introduced by Dr.Kristin Neff, a psychologist, and professor at the University of Texas, Austin.
Having self-compassion means acknowledging things that make us feel ashamed, frustrated, or disappointed. It is embracing our flaws and forgiving ourselves for shortcomings. Additionally, it is choosing to extend kindness to ourselves even when we think we don’t deserve it.
The Three Elements of Self-Compassion
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, there are three elements of self-compassion.
- Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
- Common humanity vs. isolation
- Mindfulness vs. over-identification
Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
When we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, we resort to self-judgment. It increases our stress and frustration. On the other hand, self-kindness involves recognizing that failing and experiencing difficulties are inevitable. It allows you to be gentle with yourself during stressful moments. Accepting that you cannot always get what you want is realistic and saves you the agony of self-criticism.
Common Humanity vs. Isolation
You feel frustrated by failure and imperfection because you have an irrational sense of isolation. You might feel that you’re the only one making mistakes or suffering. The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect.
Understanding that being human means being vulnerable and imperfect is key to practicing self-compassion. It allows you to recognize suffering and imperfection as part of a shared human experience.
Mindfulness vs. Over-identification
Feelings should neither be suppressed nor exaggerated. Practicing self-compassion requires you to balance negative emotions so that they do not sweep you up. Mindfulness is a receptive state of mind in which you observe negative feelings as they are and let them go without dwelling on them.
To practice mindfulness, you should be willing to relate personal experiences to others in a similar situation. It puts problems into perspective and creates a non-judgmental atmosphere.
Why Is Self-Compassion Important?
Self-compassion is essential for your well-being.
Some of the benefits of this practice include:
- Helps to cope during stressful times
- Strengthens personal accountability
- Promotes emotional stability
- Sustains the act of caring for others
- Creates resilience after major life crises
- Encourages healthier behaviors like less substance use and more physical exercise
Practicing self-compassion is not selfish. On the contrary, it is more beneficial than having high self-esteem that can result in narcissism.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
When you’re used to turning away from pain or punishing yourself for failure, practicing self-compassion may seem difficult. Know that your inner critic might never go away; you might still hear that harsh voice when you fail. Rather than ignore it, give it attention and counter it with a friendlier voice.
It takes practice to feel comfortable with a new mindset. Be flexible and start with minor changes. Here are some ways to practice self-compassion.
Treat Yourself Like a Good Friend
If a friend called you, frustrated at their stressful life situation, what would you tell them? Would you criticize them and reinforce their feelings of worthlessness? You’d probably console them, reassure them that everything will be okay and that everyone struggles sometimes.
When you’re having a hard time, remember to treat yourself with the same kindness you extend to others. Allow yourself to make mistakes, acknowledging that imperfection is human. Be understanding and empathetic towards yourself, especially when you feel undeserving.
Along with kind, forgiving language, tap into physical touch. Like you would hold a friend’s hand or pat them on the back, do the same to yourself. Cuddling your dog or hugging a loved one are some physical actions that release oxytocin and lift your mood.
Become More Self-Aware
Identify the negative ways you talk to yourself to change them. Practice detached non-judgment whenever you catch yourself thinking a negative thought. Review the basis of such thoughts and counter them with positive and rational ones.
Practicing mindfulness helps build self-awareness. Scan your body for pain or tension. Label the emotion, and articulate what you’re feeling. It is better than suppressing negative emotions and allowing them to build to stressful levels.
Change Your Mindset
Remind yourself that you are part of the human experience. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Shift your focus from yourself to the bigger picture you’re part of.
To do so, let go of the need for outside validation. Societal pressures can make you beat yourself up for things that are not as bad as they seem. Choosing not to tie your happiness to outside influences encourages self-reliance.
Share your problem with others. When you talk to people close to you, you’ll realize that you’re not alone in suffering. It’s an essential part of reassuring yourself that you’re connected to others. It also helps to picture your problems within the bigger picture.
Write a Letter to Yourself
Think of a situation that caused you pain. Write a letter describing the situation without blaming yourself for it. While you write, reframe your thoughts. Think things through from a different perspective.
Writing a letter based on your experiences helps you realize how you should be treating yourself. It encourages compassion as you put in writing the things you wouldn’t share with others.
Keep a Self-Compassion Journal
Journaling is an effective way to express both negative and positive emotions. Set aside time each evening to review your day. Write down things you felt terrible about, mistakes you judged yourself for, or challenging experiences that caused you pain. Use mindfulness and kindness to process the events in a self-compassionate way.
Keeping a self-compassion journal regularly, it becomes easier to practice it. To journal effectively, employ the following three pillars of self-compassion to review your day.
Bring awareness to the emotions you experienced in various circumstances during the day. Write down how you felt. Try to be non-judgmental about your experiences; neither belittle nor dramatize them.
Connect your experiences to being human. Acknowledge that imperfection is part of the human experience and that everyone faces challenges at times. It helps to think of the causes underlying the painful experience.
After reviewing your experience, write some words of comfort. Use a reassuring tone to let yourself know that it’s okay to mess up and feel frustrated. Resolve to be gentle and understanding the next day.
Comfort Your Body
When you neglect personal wellness, you may develop negative feelings and low self-esteem. Improving how you feel physically can improve your mood and self-esteem.
Other than physical exercises, here are some things you can do to comfort your body:
- Eat healthy, balanced meals
- Prioritize personal grooming
- Get a massage
- Lie down and rest
- Soak in a tub
- Listen to relaxing music
- Unplug from electronic devices and take a nature walk
Spend Time with People and Things You Truly Enjoy
You might feel ashamed to enjoy pleasurable activities because you think you don’t deserve to enjoy them. Know that you deserve to feel good, regardless of your past mistakes. Allow yourself to experience true happiness. Understand what is holding you back and, as an act of self-compassion, let it go.
Work with a Supportive Therapist
Online therapy can help you develop self-compassion.
Two primary therapies work for this condition:
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Compassion focused therapy (CFT)
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy
Developed from Jon Kabat-Xinn’s stress reduction program, this type of therapy increases self-awareness and can be used to increase levels of self-compassion. The goal of this treatment is to help you see yourself separately from the negative thoughts you have.
Working with an experienced counselor helps develop positive thoughts in response to negative moods. Rather than focusing on mistakes and flaws, you can learn to accept yourself.
Developed by Paul Gilbert, this type of therapy is meant to develop skills that increase compassion. It facilitates experiences that make you feel safe and increase self-compassion. Your therapist will guide you through past experiences that may trigger self-criticism. Together, you will reframe your thoughts and adopt a positive mindset.
The Bottom Line
Practicing self-compassion means being understanding, kind, and forgiving towards yourself. Contrary to popular belief, it is not selfish to love yourself. Challenge negative thoughts, connect yourself to others, and engage in activities you love as a form of self-care.
If you’re struggling to practice self-compassion, online therapy can help.