Compassion refers to the ability to approach others with understanding, empathy, forgiveness, and kindness. Most of us know what compassion is and how to give it to others. In fact, when a loved one or friend makes a mistake or is facing difficulty in life, compassion is often our most natural reaction. We might say something like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, everyone makes mistakes”. To be a good friend, we know that the last thing they need is criticism and judgement during a hard time. I have always found it interesting how easily we can show compassion for others but how difficult it is to show some for ourselves. Many of the clients I work with will often say they are harder on themselves than anyone else could ever be. This raises the question: Why do others deserve compassion, but you think you do not?
So, what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion involves turning the understanding, empathy, forgiveness, and kindness you might show others, inward. It allows us to make mistakes and experience difficulties in life without listening to our harsh inner critic. It means telling ourselves that we are human, we are imperfect, and that is ok. Practicing self-compassion says to ourselves, “I am deserving of the same love and understanding that I show to others”. To be self-compassionate, we must be able to recognize our emotions and experiences of suffering. We must also provide ourselves with validation that this situation is challenging. Then, we choose to withhold harsh judgments of ourselves and instead, treat ourselves with kindness and good care. Finally, we remember the universality of shortcomings, failures, and mistakes and remind ourselves that we are not alone. When we fail to treat ourselves with compassion, we tend to feel more depressed, anxious, and self-critical.
How is it different from self-esteem?
Self-esteem refers to our sense of worthiness. It is often based on our own perception of our value to others based on traits that we think might be preferable. For example, we may desire to be beautiful, smart, or successful in hopes that this will improve our self-esteem. Attempts at boosting our self-esteem often lead to us feeling frustrated and desperate because they are tied to external evaluations of worth that are subject to change. What if we decided that we were worthwhile just because we are human beings? What if we came to believe that we are deserving of compassion regardless of how attractive, successful, or smart we feel at that moment? Self-compassion lets us do that.
How do I start?
Below are some tips on getting started with practicing self-compassion:
- Take good care of yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating foods that make you feel good and give you energy, and practicing good hygiene. Even when you are feeling down, ashamed, or struggling, you deserve to be taken care of.
- Next time you make a mistake or experience a personal setback, think of what you might tell your best friend or a loved one. I bet you wouldn’t tell them, “Wow, you really messed up” or think of them as a failure. Instead, you might remind them of their strengths and remind them that everyone struggles at times.
- Reframe your thinking to be more specific. Even though you made a mistake at work, it does not mean you are awful at your job. Instead, you might tell yourself that you made a mistake at work today, acknowledge that it was upsetting, and remind yourself that you have plenty of productive days at work as well.
- Make time for self-care. Take time to do the things you enjoy and spend time with those that make you happy because you are worth it.
- Remember that this is a new way of thinking about and treating yourself. It is normal to feel some discomfort at the beginning of your practice.
If you would like help practicing self-compassion and improving your mood, please reach out to Ali Devine at Shoreside Therapies!
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Ali Devine, MS, LPC, SAC-IT
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