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Why do you need to be kind to yourself?

What is self-compassion and how do you practice it?

Last month, I was having dinner with one of my friends and he asked, “Why didn’t the school teach us to be nice to ourselves?”

Interesting question. The society has been conditioned in such a way that people use external things such as money, status, possessions, and pleasure to fix their unhappiness within. When we are unhappy, we usually blame other parties or ourselves for not getting what we want.

Seldom, do we look inside and take care of the real problem.

We make more money, we buy more stuff. We build our relationships with others.

But we often take the relationship with ourselves for granted.

In fact, most of us believe that by disciplining ourselves and being highly self-critical, we will achieve our goals. We don’t mind sacrificing ourselves to get what we want.

However, we don’t realize that we are just using the outer world to fix our inner world when we can just pay more attention to our inner world right at the start. So most people don’t practice self-compassion and remain unfulfilled even after they have gotten all those things from the outer world.

To have more self-compassion, let’s first understand what it is.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Compassion is about noticing the sufferings of others and having the desire to help them. You understand how one feels when he or she makes a mistake, fails, or has a difficult time. You show kindness, care, and warmth towards the other as though you are suffering from them.

Self-compassion simply means to have compassion for yourself.

The definition of self-compassion is the same as that of compassion. Just that we extend this love and understanding to ourselves. We know that sometimes we might feel inadequate or have a bad day. Instead of judging ourselves for being weak and criticizing our shortcomings, we care and accept ourselves for who we are.

Kristin Neff’s 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff, the author of the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, is the pioneer in the research of self-compassion. According to her, self-compassion consists of three parts:

  • Self-Kindness
  • Common Humanity
  • Mindfulness

Self-kindness is about being gentle with oneself. You know that you aren’t perfect and you allow yourself to make mistakes without being angry at yourself. You love yourself unconditionally are less critical of yourself.

Common humanity is about realizing that all humans suffer, fail, and struggle. This is part of our shared human experience. We aren’t the only one who has flaws and failures. The empathy you have for others can be extended to yourself too.

Mindfulness is about observing our emotions and thoughts without judging them as negative or suppress and deny their existence. It’s also about maintaining a space between you the observer and your thoughts and emotions.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is commonly used in psychotherapy and Buddhism. It has numerous benefits, especially in the area of emotional well-being.

Practicing self-compassion reduces self-criticism and this lowers the risks of having anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people are more resilient when they face a negative event in life. Instead of ruminating and blaming themselves for the problem, they show kindness to themselves during a difficult time.

Self-compassion increases overall life satisfaction and happiness. 

Self-compassion helps you to feel more connected with others and maintain healthy relationships. When you feel like you are the only one that is imperfect, you feel disconnected from others and an unwillingness to share your shame and troubles. This affects your social life because you isolate yourself from others for fear of being judged.

People who cultivate self-compassion don’t wait for others to validate their self-worth and seek approval from others. They give themselves the love and affirmations that they need.

When your self-esteem doesn’t depend on how the other person views you, it reduces your pressure of keeping a positive image in front of others. You will then have more freedom to be yourself and focus on building the relationship.

This is the power of self-compassion.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Developing self-compassion takes practice. Even though human beings have this innate ability to be compassionate, some of us have forgotten or been taught out of it. Achieving our goals and building our self-image have become increasingly more important than treating ourselves nicely.

Below I’ve broken down the different techniques to increase self-compassion based on the three elements provided by Dr. Kristin Neff. If you aren’t sure how to have more self-compassion, this is a good place to start.

  • Self-Kindness (Item 1 to 3)
  • Common Humanity (Item 4 to 5)
  • Mindfulness (Item 6 to 7)

1. Be a good friend to yourself.

Compare how you treat your friend with how you treat yourself. What’s the difference?

Most of us treat our friends better than ourselves. When our friends make a mistake, we tell them it’s okay. But when we make the same mistake, it’s unforgivable. Deep down inside, we already know what compassion is. Just that we do it so naturally for others that we don’t always notice it.

Observe how you treat your friends.

This allows you to see what compassion is and how you can do the same for yourself. Ask yourself:

  • What flaws do your friends have that you are willing to accept?
  • How willing are you to listen to your friends’ complaints and problems?
  • How do you comfort your friends when they are having a tough time?
  • Can you do the same for yourself?

2. Change your self-talk.

Compassionate self-talk has two elements. One is the language you use and the other is the tone of delivery.

When your inner child is hurting, using words like “should”, “have to”, and “always”, calling yourself names or beating yourself up doesn’t help. They just aggravate your suffering. You already know that you had made a mistake.

Telling yourself harshly that you are wrong doesn’t undo your mistakes.

Even though your inner critic might have good intentions, the tone of delivery can be too harsh and unbearable. It’s up to us to not take it personally and to reframe what the inner critic tells us.

For example, if your inner critic blames you for being lazy for not exercising, take the judgment off of yourself and focus on the issue at hand. You can tell yourself, “Yes, I could have exercised in the morning. It’s important for me to move my body” without blaming and judging yourself.

3. Learn it from someone else.

If you have been critical of yourself for your whole life and you have no idea how to be nice to yourself or others, model after people who are compassionate. Going to see a therapist might be helpful. When you go for therapy sessions, not only are you trying to solve the problems you have, take this opportunity to learn how to be more self-compassionate from your therapist.

Observe how the therapist talks to you.

Good therapists listen to you attentively and ask questions to get you to reflect on your own. They don’t judge you or your behaviors. Apply these actions to yourself. You can also surround yourself with other compassionate people by joining activity groups near you.

Of course, not all therapists and communities are compassionate. If you are someone who doesn’t like to share your vulnerabilities with others, then online resources such as guided meditation, video, apps, worksheets, courses, or questionnaires might be more suited for you.

4. Give yourself permission to be kind to yourself.

To have self-compassion, you need to have a mindset change. Self-compassion is not self-indulgence or selfish. Everyone is imperfect and vulnerable in their own ways. We all have our critical voices and challenges to deal with. You have to understand:

It’s difficult for everyone, not just you.

When you realize you are not the only one who suffers, self-compassion will not be selfish anymore. Taking care of your needs for love and being kind to yourself is equivalent to being compassionate to others. In fact, it’s much easier to start with yourself and extend this love and kindness to others than to wait passively for others to treat you better because you have control over the former, but not the latter.

You, like everyone else, are an active source of compassion. You just need to let go of your perception of self-compassion and give yourself permission to be nice to yourself.

5. Forgive yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes, but why is it harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others?

When other people make mistakes, we can see how their circumstances have caused them to make those mistakes. Especially if you have known someone for a long time and know their character, forgiving them is easy.

But when we make mistakes, we have a tendency to focus too much on ourselves, and not on the behavior. We know ourselves longer than we know others. Our minds remind us of all the mistakes we had made in our lives. It’s easy for us to rely upon and judge ourselves based on our past self-beliefs and exaggerate the importance of the mistakes we make.

Self-compassion requires you to forgive and accept everything you had done.

You feel angry, ashamed, or disappointed with yourself, but who is the “self” you are mad at? Your past self. You know where you went wrong previously now. If you have known better at the time, you wouldn’t have done what you did.

One way to forgive yourself is to write a compassionate letter to yourself. Write down what you don’t like about yourself and remind yourself that everyone has flaws too. Encourage yourself to embrace and accept all of you like how you would encourage a friend.

6. Observe your thoughts and feelings without identifying with them.

Self-awareness is key when it comes to self-compassion. Perhaps before you can have self-compassion, you have to ask yourself who you are.

  • Are you the critic? The one who is constantly nagging you and telling you that you aren’t good enough.
  • Are you the victim? The one who feels not good enough and is always being criticized for its mistakes.
  • Or are you the observer? The one who notices the criticism and the suffering it creates.

Self-compassion mustn’t be confused with self-pity.

Self-pity is about playing the role of a victim and dwelling on your sorrows, while self-compassion is about caring for the victim. The former over-identifies with the negative thoughts and emotions, while the latter is about extending kindness to the part of the mind or body that feels hurt.

We are the observer of our suffering. We are not the suffering itself. If you can’t create a space between you and the suffering, how do you have the capacity and consciousness to have compassion for the part that is hurting? You will lose yourself in the drama your mind has created.

Read my book, Empty Your Cup, to find out how mindfulness can help with your low self-esteem issues.

7. Have the right intention.

Self-compassion can be done wrongly too if you don’t start with the right intention. You probably have seen parents who try to encourage their children by boosting their self-esteem. They said things such as “You are not stupid. It’s just careless mistakes. You are an intelligent kid.” or “You can do it. I believe in you. You can get good grades if you try harder.”

Even though having a cheerleader or someone who has faith in you is nice, but that is not compassion.

Self-compassion is not about building your self-esteem or ego.

When you practice self-compassion, you don’t tell yourself how good you are or you won’t make the same mistakes again. You tell yourself, “I don’t care if you make mistake or not. I’m here for you. I accept everything about you.” This is loving-kindness. It’s not about having a better perception of yourself or making yourself feel better.

Judging yourself is still judging, regardless if it is good or bad. True love is unconditional, and true compassion needs no judgment. So have the right intention before you start practicing self-compassion is important.

Featured Photo Credit: Smile and nothing else / Mateus Lunardi Dutra