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5 Transformative Steps for Enhancing Self-Compassion

Integrate "WEROC" to practice self-compassion.

Key points

  • Most of us have never been taught to express or connect to self-appreciation, self-compassion, and self-love.
  • We often make broad negative generalizations about who we are and how we think, feel, and behave.
  • Enhancing self-compassion increases self-confidence, value-driven behaviors, and life-satisfaction.
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Try saying “I love myself,” or “I am worthy of love,” aloud. How does it feel to express that? Most people report feeling awkward and having difficulty connecting to those sentiments at the gut level. It says something about the way our mind works because of our neurobiology, which naturally puts us in a defensive and self-protective posture, as well as how we were socialized, the way in which we personally view ourselves, and how we may not have ever been taught to express or connect to self-appreciation, self-compassion, and self-love.

When I ask patients to comment on their personal attributes, all too often they point out and complain about their “negative” ones, paying a lot less attention to or briefly describing their positive ones. “I’m too sensitive and even the littlest things affect me,” they say, or “I worry about the most ridiculous things.” “I’m overly angry and frustrated.” “I’m always so negative.” “I have a horribly jealous and envious side.”

We often make broad negative generalizations about who we are, how we function, and how we think, feel, and behave (i.e., I’m angry, I’m mean, I’m selfish, I’m anxious, etc.). And we all have thoughts and feelings that distress us, impose self-doubt, and make us feel generally uncomfortable that we want to get rid of. But this perpetuates the desire to get rid of the aspects of ourselves that we would prefer not having, because our perception is that we would be better off not having “it” or being “that way.”

When we berate ourselves as kids, we choose not to share our thoughts, or if we do, we’re often told we shouldn’t be thinking this way, that it isn’t true, and to just stop it. (Only a select few of us were taught how to personally respond to those sentiments.) Who could blame our parents or caretakers? They worried about why we were saying those things, and they felt uncomfortable hearing it because it’s so negative. They may not have had a helpful answer and probably wanted to get the thought out of our head as quickly as it got in.

First Steps to Learning How to Be More Self-Compassionate

When I ask individuals the best way to treat their child or one they know throwing a tantrum, they inevitably reply with compassion and care. They recognize going head-to-head would escalate the exasperated child’s behavior. When I ask why they don’t approach themselves the same way when they feel sad, angry, disappointed, etc., and instead judge, loathe, and berate their thoughts and feelings, they invariably tell me it’s where their mind goes, they can’t help it, and they don’t know how to direct it otherwise.

WEROC: 5 Steps to Practicing Self-Compassion

WEROC are the steps you can take toward building and practicing self-compassion. These will help you enhance your compassion toward yourself and others.

If you increase your self-awareness, and proactively and consistently engage in compassion laden behaviors, your actions inevitably become more a part of who you are and how you are. Take time to practice these steps so you can reap the substantiative benefits of enhancing your self-compassion, such as increased self-confidence, acting from value-driven behaviors, and greater life-satisfaction that fortifying compassion offers you.

Work WITH (not against) Your Self-Critic. Think of a constructive action, then plan for it. Do things differently, otherwise you’ll have similar results. Thank your mind for trying to protect you from perceived danger and discomfort and ensure your comfortability. Acknowledge you’re not your thoughts or feelings, and that you can choose to take action based on your core values and what’s truly meaningful to you. Know you have a fundamental right to live a purposeful and meaningful life.

Engage Your Friend Voice. If you find yourself being overly self-critical, listen carefully to what your self-critic is saying. Ask yourself if you would say half those things to a good friend going through a similar situation? Or even to someone you don’t like? What would you actually say? Engage your “friend” voice and act on behalf of that kindness and care. Say the things you most need to hear to be validated, comforted, and nurtured.

Redirect. Redirect your inner critic’s focus to specific situations and behavior, rather than broad labels or personal attributes. Rather than labeling who you are as a person, call yourself on the behavior. Reframe expressing and identifying what value it’s rubbing against (e.g., work ethic vs. pleasure-seeking). Consider whether the response helps you lean toward or against your values and being your best self.

Observe and Acknowledge. Notice your feelings and emotions in different circumstances throughout the day. Next time your self-critic pipes up, recognize that you may have good but misguided intentions. Recognize that your mind will attempt to ensure you’re safe and comfortable. To do this, it may be overprotective or convince you to do whatever’s necessary to achieve or maintain comfortability. Name it and acknowledge it, rather than try to suppress it.

Comfort. Identify your emotions and where you’re feeling them. Tightness in your chest? Heaviness in your shoulders? Remind yourself that frailties and imperfections are integral to our humanness and the essence of our shared humanity. Our body reacts to our distress and alerts us when we need to make a shift. Assess your propensity to do what is most familiar and comfortable. Just notice it. Make concerted efforts to reserve self-judgment and self-criticism. Ask yourself continually what you need to feel validated and supported during moments of pain or challenge. Follow through on giving yourself the attention, words of encouragement, touch, or whatever else you may need.

You’re optimally the best person to meet your core emotional needs by exercising self-validation and self-compassion. It’s never too late to facilitate, enhance and cultivate a greater sense of confidence and worthiness by exercising self-compassion. You deserve to be nurtured and embraced by you.

For more information on cultivating self-love and self-compassion see my prior Psychology Today articles: Why Practicing Self-Love Isn’t Optional But Necessary and The Power of Self-Love and Self-Compassion. To increase your self-love and self-compassion, participate in a Loving Kindness (Meta) Guided Mediation led by me.

More from Michelle P. Maidenberg Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R, CGP
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