For me it means dropping self-judgment every time I notice it—from eating too much chocolate last night to procrastinating writing my novel this morning to being envious of a friend this afternoon. It is the act of dropping my story that I am bad, wrong, less than, not spiritual, not progressing.
Self-compassion looks different from moment to moment. When I’m sad, it can look like crying sometimes but at other times it means giving myself a kick in the pants. The most important thing for me to remember is to stay present to my experience so I can be discerning about what self-compassion might mean in any given instance.
Do What Brings You Energy
Self-compassion is keeping a caring, gentle eye on my most important needs and desires—big or small and inner or outer—and giving myself the permission to do more of what brings me ease and energy, and less of what drains me.
Put Self-Care First
My greatest challenge and learning from this practice is that self-care and compassion has to come first—not after I’ve taken care of others, or done my work for the day, but as my first priority.
Allow for the Hurts
Self-compassion means truly honoring, and allowing for, our own suffering. To be with the hurts, the uncomfortable, the longings and the hungers, and to offer value and substance to these experiences. More than that, to go further and to respond, in kind, to what the self is really wanting and needing.
Be Your Own Reliable Companion
Self-compassion asks me to be my most reliable companion on the spiral staircase of life. I may have other companions along the way, but only my self will be with me 24/7.
Show Up for Yourself
The most intimate relationship we will have in our entire lifetime is with ourselves. No one hears our hearts the way we do. No one knows our hurts the way we do. We are the sages of our soft spots and our edges. Self-compassion is showing up to that relationship with honesty and with love.
Start with Boundaries
I am developing a definition of self-compassion that starts with gentle but clear boundaries, especially in my parenting, supported by practices such as breathing and calming mantras to stay present to strong feelings that arise without being overwhelmed by them.
Say YES to Yourself
I love that the word “compass” is nestled in that word compassion. So is the word “passion.” In self-compassion, the compass points to yourself; the passion for self-understanding is part of our mission. Self-compassion is self-love, self-empathy, self-mercy. Self-compassion is the act of saying YES to yourself, of sending the message “I matter,” and of experiencing self-love even when self-loathing has the louder voice.
Let Yourself Fail
Self-compassion means not having to be right all the time. Letting myself off the hook if I’ve tried my best and things didn’t come out like I wanted. A lot of it is forgiveness. I get to be a mortal. I don’t have to be better or stronger than other people. I get to just be a fallible, wonderful, person like everyone else. It means I’m not special, but in a good way.
Tell the Truth
This is my self-compassion: telling myself the truth with love and kindness. It’s not fancy, but it has changed my life. I say that with no exaggeration.
Remember: You are Born Innocent
When I think of self-compassion, I often hear in my mind a line from Sarah McLachlan’s song “Adia”: We are born innocent. And then further, We are *still* innocent. We make messes of things absolutely, and hurt ourselves and one another in all sorts of ways. But at heart, I believe we’re each, given our genetic make-up and life experiences, doing the best we can.
Ask Good Questions
It’s about using a kind voice to ask good questions: What would help right now? What do you need most? or What feels hardest?
Tame Your Inner Self-Talk
Unfortunately, my inner dialogue isn’t always kind or accepting. When I catch myself engaging in negative self-talk, I remind myself that I am enough, that I’m doing good work, and that I have friends and family who love me.
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
I try to follow the model of my behavior toward the human I love and adore the most. Treating myself at least equally as well, if not better. The first time I heard a flight attendant instruct, “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first, before assisting others with theirs,” the metaphor lit up. Immediately.
–Mary Anne Radmacher
Choose to Swim
I think there is a moment when you’re in the deepest depths of despair where you have to make a choice of whether you’re going to save yourself and swim towards the surface, or just let yourself drown. I chose to swim, and from that moment on I started learning how to take care of myself.
Be Your Own Perfect Mother
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about self-compassion is being your own inner “perfect mother.” She is the one that tells you everything is going to be o.k. and can always see your beauty, and knows when to listen. We all have this inside ourselves if we listen, even if your real mother is not anything like this.
Practice Moment by Moment
I practice self-compassion moment by moment. It lies in how I receive myself and what I’m experiencing. I practice awareness of self-judgment and my inner dialogue. I practice softening, allowing, embracing. The experience is energetic, emotional and somatic. It’s subtle. It’s not a button to push or switch to flip.
Oh, and how do I practice self compassion? Easy. I am constantly forgiving myself. Forgiving myself when I judge another to be wrong, when I judge myself as less than… and judge the world for what I see as “bad”. Practicing self-compassion is saying “I forgive myself, for I know not what I see/do.” over and over again.
Allow for the Unpredictable
I believe self-compassion mean allowing for the unpredictable nature of being human. It means being kind. It means allowing for plans to change, for the mountains to call, and for rest and retreat to be taken freely. It means beholding beauty as our birthright and our longings as legitimate. It means loving the self as much, or more, than the other.
Discover Your Weird
Self-compassion means discovering your own weird, being exactly who you are and knowing that is the foundation of your strength and what you have to offer.
Say “I’m Sorry.”
Because I am imperfect, because I am flawed, I allow myself to make mistakes. I will bumble things and the wrong words will come out of my mouth. I will hurt you and I will hurt myself. But because my heart is good, I’ll know that I never meant to. And it’s this “never meant to” that enables me to forgive myself and to forgive you too. I believe in the words, “ I’m sorry.” What else is there to say?
Recognize You're Not Alone
Part of self-compassion is recognizing our common humanity. In essence, acknowledging that everyone is flawed: this is part of the human experience. It helps to remember that you’re not alone.
It’s simply being kind to myself—meeting myself, whatever my emotional, physical or psychological state, with loving kindness. As simple, and difficult, as that!
Accept It All
Self-compassion is drawing the circle around us bigger and bigger and bigger, to accept it all: all the glitter, all the dance, all the mud, and all the mess.
–Sherry Richard Belul
Stop Expecting Perfection
It’s when we stop expecting ourselves to be perfect and then beating ourselves up (mercilessly!) for falling short. It’s when we’re patient with ourselves the way we’d be with a child or our best friend…
More and more, I try to love the crap out of myself.
–Judy Clement Wall
Thanks again to Jill at A Thousand Shades of Gray for this much-needed series. You can read about the beginning of this series here.
Photos by Greg Markway (except for the first photo, which is by Jill Salahub).
You can follow me on Facebook
I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. My husband, Greg, and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.