What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion can be defined in many ways, but put simply it is the practice of being kind to yourself and treating yourself with understanding and care. This includes being supportive, affirming, patient, forgiving, and offering yourself a caring response to your struggles, whether they are internal struggles like self-criticism, disappointments, failures, or feelings of inadequacy, or external struggles like challenging circumstances or life transitions.
Self-compassion doesn’t come easily for many people. Often there can be a greater focus and drive to show compassion and care for others, while putting your own needs aside. You might even believe that if you focus on yourself and your needs, you are being selfish or self-absorbed.
This is not necessarily true.
Showing compassion and care for others is important and certainly worth doing, but showing compassion toward yourself is equally important and does not mean you are being selfish. The better you take care of yourself and your needs, the better equipped you will be to extend your care to others. It’s that simple. Just like the classic metaphor involving the oxygen mask – you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you can more effectively care for and assist others.
How can I start practicing self-compassion?
Practicing self-compassion begins with making a commitment to pay closer attention to how you treat yourself and then finding ways to offer yourself more kindness and care.
Slow down and observe.
In order to make changes in how you treat yourself, you first have to slow down and start to notice your patterns. Notice when you are being self-critical or impatient with yourself, when you are disregarding or dismissing your needs or feelings, or when you are prioritizing the needs and feelings of others at your own expense.
At first you might not be able to notice these responses right when they are happening but you can start by reviewing your patterns after the fact. Take the time to reflect on challenges throughout your day. How did you respond? What thoughts came up? Specifically what thoughts came up about yourself? What feelings or emotions came up? What physical feelings or sensations did you notice (muscle tension, shakiness, heart racing, etc.)?
As you train yourself to pay closer attention to these responses, you will start to recognize them more readily when they are happening and from there you can choose how you want to proceed, rather than repeating the same old patterns. This takes time, practice, and commitment, so don’t expect to miraculously master this level of awareness from the start. One step at a time.
Offer yourself kindness and understanding.
When you notice that you are being self-critical, thinking that you’re “not good enough” or undeserving or that there’s something wrong with you, try to talk yourself through it, offering yourself kindness and understanding. Let yourself know that you did the best you could at the time, or that you’re not alone, that other people struggle too, nobody’s perfect, you can learn from your mistakes, etc. Try to talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend or a loved one, offering support and encouragement, rather than criticism and blame.
Pay attention to your needs.
When you are struggling or dealing with intense or difficult emotions, ask yourself: What are these feelings telling me? What do I need right now? What will help? This helps you build understanding of your unique needs so that you can then work toward getting them met. This can be particularly helpful in those times when you are feeling stuck or unsure of how to proceed.
Set limits with yourself and others.
Paying attention to your needs helps you to better understand your limits, which then paves the way for you to set and maintain those limits. Setting limits or boundaries is a way to protect and care for yourself. This involves being able to say no, being able to give yourself a break, and being able to take some space for yourself when you need it.
Ask for help and be open to receive it.
Showing compassion for yourself means understanding that you can’t always handle everything on your own. Sometimes you need help and that's ok. Asking for help takes courage and it’s a great act of kindness to yourself when you give yourself the opportunity to receive the assistance and support you need and deserve.
Self-compassion takes practice and well…it takes some self-compassion: understanding and accepting that your inner critic will continue to chime in from time to time and that sometimes you’ll be more successful at offering yourself kindness and care than others. It's an ongoing process of learning to shift your mindset toward a more compassionate view and caring for yourself so that you can be the best that you can be, for yourself and for others.
It’s a worthy practice that can lead to: improved mood, reduced anxiety and stress, improved self-esteem, improved relationships, greater feelings of confidence and competence, and greater resilience.
If you are interested in more support for building self-compassion or you need help with managing anxiety, stress, or depression, feel free to contact me and we can set up a therapy appointment. I’m happy to help.
Call Melanie Lopes, MFT at 415-295-2940 or send me an email.