What is self-compassion?
Dr Kirstin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, explains that it is the same as the feelings of compassion we have for others, only we turn it inward, to ourselves. She says when we feel self-compassion, we acknowledge and feel moved by our own suffering. This in turn, leads us to feel tender toward ourselves and motivates us to want to help, or care for ourselves. It also leads us to be gentle and understanding of our limitations, struggles and mistakes.
When you are hurting and you practice self-compassion rather than ‘soldiering on’ or giving yourself a hard time, you are acknowledging that you are suffering. This then allows space for you to give yourself comfort and support. To have compassion, means to accept and embrace your imperfect humanness.
Following, are ten possible ways to practice self-compassion. See how many of them work for you…
1. Be kind to your ‘ugly’ bits
Be kind and gentle with the parts of yourself that you are not happy with. This could be the struggle you have with your body image, your shyness, that thing you wish you hadn’t said, your anxiety, your single status, or the texture of your hair. When you berate yourself for being ‘not good enough’, you make yourself feel worse, not better.
Imagine a small child, or a loved one with your ‘problem’; would you bully them for not being perfect? When you are kind and gentle with the parts of yourself you consider undesirable, you can begin to heal. Hurt needs love, not criticism.
2. Move everyday
Contrary to popular belief, your mind and body are not separate entities. They are linked, interconnected, entwined, and interact and affect each other in profound and powerful ways. When you move your body, you move your mind. Moving your body – in whatever way works best for you (walking, swimming, yoga, tree climbing) – helps you to sleep better, gives you more energy, gets you thinking more creatively and reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
If you are interested in exploring this further, the book Move Your Body Tone Your Mood, by Kate F. Hays has more information. Also, Pip Lincolne’s book ‘Craft for the Soul’ has a chapter called ‘Movement is the Key to Happiness and Creativity’ which I found inspiring.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others
You are a unique individual, with your own interests, purpose and values. Comparing yourself to others really is like apples and oranges – it is absurd and futile. It also has the potential to cause you a lot of grief. Of course if you focus on the attributes of others in a favourable light, then compare that to your own perceived inadequacies, you are going to feel dis-empowered and inadequate.
Alternatively, you may compare yourself to others in an attempt to make yourself feel superior, or ‘better’. Comparing yourself to others, when each of us is so very unique and on our own personal path in life – involving different histories, families, personalities, struggles, achievements, likes, dislikes, interests and goals – really makes no sense. Neither does it serve you.
Beating yourself up for not being more like someone else, or gloating because you feel better than someone else, does not empower you. It disconnects you from others. It undermines who you truly are – in your own, special way.
4. Spend time in nature
Spending time in nature can have a profound affect on your stress levels – making you feel calmer. Walking in the bush, sitting by the river, picnicking in the park, swimming in the ocean, or camping, is likely to have the effect of slowing you down. The natural world doesn’t operate at the same pace as we humans now do. The experience of being in nature, can show you how fast you’ve been living and how caught up you have become in the dramas of life. Often in the natural world, we glimpse a bigger picture of our life – it can help us to put things into perspective.
5. Create moments of peace
Creating moments of peace for yourself is about stopping for a while – giving yourself some time and space away from all the usual activities of life. It’s about rest and rejuvenation. It’s about stopping still and silently long enough to listen to your inner voice – that part of you that deep down knows what you need. This can look any way you’d like it to.
It could be: listening to music, drinking tea in the garden, fishing, a spiritual practice, reading a book, staring at the ocean, writing out all your thoughts and feelings, doing something creative, taking a nap, meditating (such as these Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises), listening to a mindfulness app (such as Smiling Mind or Buddhify), creating a ritual, or having a massage.
If you are interested in becoming more in tune with your own needs, here is a cool exercise:
– Grab some paper and a pen and find somewhere to sit quietly on your own.
– Close your eyes and take a few long, slow, deep breaths.
– Take some time to feel your feet on the ground and your body supporting you in your chair.
– When you’re ready, write out a question for yourself. It could be something as simple as, “What do I need right now?”. Or, “What do I need when my boss speaks to me that way?”
– Then, using your non-dominant hand, write yourself an answer. Try not to think about it, rather, just start writing and see what happens. Try not to judge or edit your answer. Just write.
– That may be enough for you, or you may have further questions you’d like to ask and then answer. Be curious and open and see what comes up. When you give yourself the time and space, what do you discover about what you truly need?
6. Learn to say no (Boundaries)
Saying “no” when others make requests of you that compromise your own needs, is an example of having healthy boundaries and self-compassion. To do this, you need to know what your needs are. You need to be aware of how you feel, and what is okay and not okay for you (number 5, ‘create moments of peace’, may be a good place to start asking yourself how you feel and what you need).
When you are clear about these things, you are then in a position to say “yes” or “no” to others. By doing this, you are honouring yourself, and you’re being authentic with others. When you say “yes”, when you secretly want to say “no”, you give up the opportunity for connection with the other, you are not acting in your own best interest, and you may feel resentful. Saying “no” when something is not right for you, is an act of self-compassion.
Writer and researcher, Brene Brown, describes the role of boundaries beautifully in this short video.
7. Ask for what you want
This is about being responsible for yourself. There is great personal power in being self-responsible. It can be difficult to get your needs met if you are not willing to speak up and ask. This is not the same as expecting others to do everything for you. This is about you knowing what it is that you need, and clearly communicating that to others. It is linked to number 6 (boundaries and being assertive) and number 9 (reach out to others).
For example, if you are feeling sad, and what you’d love, is for a friend to come over and watch movies and eat chocolate with you, the solution would be to ask. This may seem simple and obvious, but many of us are not great at asking for what we want. Sometimes, we expect others to read our minds – to ‘just know’ what we need. Often, they don’t. Not because they don’t care, but because they can’t read our mind! We can fall into the trap of thinking, “If you really loved me, you’d know what I need. I shouldn’t have to ask.”
Alternatively, you might think, “I can’t ask for what I want! That’s selfish/inconvenient/I might be rejected.” I say, asking for what you want is not selfish, but rather, self-care and self-compassion. Yes, it may be inconvenient for the other, but that is for them to decide. It’s also true, that when you ask something of another, they may say no. However, you’ll never know unless you ask.
8. Cut yourself some slack
We can be so incredibly hard on ourselves. I see this every day in my counselling practice. The standards we expect from ourselves can often be quite unrealistic. If we make a mistake, we can be very quick and ruthless with judging and punishing ourselves with harsh words. We can often expect ourselves to be ‘perfect’ in a way that we’d never expect of another. This level of expectation and self-criticism can be exhausting and extremely stressful.
One way to put your self-expectations into perspective, is to ask yourself what you would say to a friend if they were in your shoes. Most often, you would never judge, or speak to a friend the way you do to yourself. Be your own friend. That is self-compassion. Made a mistake? Understand that one, we all make mistakes; two, often we learn the most from the things we don’t get ‘right’; and three, mistakes sometimes turn out to be the best thing we’ve ever done – some of the best discoveries and most amazing creations have occurred through a ‘mistake’.
Let’s allow ourselves to be imperfectly perfect!
9. Reach out to others
Humans are social creatures. We are designed to live in communities and support each other. However, many of us have come to believe that we should be able to cope on our own – that asking for help is ‘weak’. It may be scary to reach out to others when you feel vulnerable, but the rewards can be enormous. ‘Soldiering on’ alone when you are finding something difficult is not self-compassion. As humans, we all experience suffering sometimes. Let’s be kind to ourselves, and get some support when we need it.
10. Practice gratitude
Practice gratitude. Not instead of accepting what is, but in addition to. What I mean is, to practice gratitude, you do not need to pretend everything is great when it’s not. It’s not about pretending, or forcing yourself to ‘think positive’, or denying how you truly feel. No. It’s about looking around you, and looking within, and noticing what is good for you. You may be going along okay at the moment, or you may be really struggling; but in addition to that truth, what are you also grateful for?
Noticing three things every day that you’re grateful for can, over time, influence your perception and your mood. For example, you may be suffering with a broken heart and at the same time, you’re grateful for the friend who made you soup, the comfort of a warm bed and the flowers blooming in your garden. This does not deny that you are sad and hurt and emotionally raw – your gratitude can sit side-by-side with your pain.
It is important to note here, that sometimes we can misuse/misinterpret the practice of gratitude, and use it to beat ourselves up. We do this when we say to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel so upset, I should be grateful for what I have. There are others in the world worse-off than me.” Don’t do that to yourself. That is not self-compassion.
As I go to sit in the garden with my cup of tea, I wonder how you will show yourself some compassion today?
To make an appointment with Counsellor and Psychotherapist Toni Jackson, please phone: 0439 995 302,
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org