Life can be hard. And when it is, we all deserve comfort, forgiveness, and encouragement. Sometimes, compassion from others helps us cope. Self-compassion, the ability to treat yourself with care, is also important.
Despite its many benefits, being kind to ourselves can feel awkward and scary, especially if we’re not used to doing it. However, it doesn't have to be difficult. Often, getting started is the hardest part. Following are
Ways to Practice Self-Compassion
1. Acknowledge that you’re struggling. Acknowledge that you’re having a hard time, even if it’s a minor setback, mistake, or frustration. Acknowledging it without judgment cues you to offer yourself compassion. Start by saying, “This is really hard. It would be hard for anyone.”
2. Accept that you’re imperfect and that’s normal. Try not to beat yourself up when you make a mistake or notice your shortcomings. Instead, say or do something kind for yourself—just as you would for a friend who’d made a mistake. Contrary to popular belief, being hard on yourself won’t motivate you to change or do better; people learn and grow when they’re accepted, encouraged, and nurtured.
3. Give yourself compliments. In addition to lifting us up when we’re down, friends celebrate our accomplishments and point out our strengths. Be a good friend to yourself by giving yourself compliments. Here are some examples:
- I’m proud of myself for getting to work on time.
- I made it through that meeting without losing my temper. Great job!
- I put a lot of effort into this.
- I’m good at _________.
You do a lot of things right. Make sure you’re noticing and giving yourself credit!
4. Accept compliments from others. Many people dismiss compliments from others because they feel uncomfortable being the center of attention or they don’t believe the compliment is warranted. If you feel uncomfortable, remember that people generally give compliments because they care about and respect you. Let yourself benefit from the kindness and positive energy that’s being offered.
5. Set boundaries. Healthy boundaries are a way of loving yourself and others. You need to set boundaries to protect yourself from physical and emotional harm. Boundaries can help you manage stress and prioritize what’s most important to you. They also strengthen relationships by communicating clear expectations for how people can treat you and how you will treat them.
6. Invest in self-improvement. I see the desire to improve yourself as an indication that you value yourself. We all have things we’d like to improve, but not everyone will invest the time and money in themselves to actually do the work. Self-improvement comes in many forms—going to therapy, reading self-help books, taking a class, changing an unhealthy habit, or attending a support group, to name a few. When you love yourself, you’ll want to improve—not because you’re broken or inadequate, but because you care about yourself.
7. Honor your feelings. As a society, we tend to be uncomfortable with emotions, especially the “unpleasant” ones. We prefer to numb out with alcohol, food, electronics, pornography, and busyness. We pretend we’re “fine” when we’re really very far from fine.
However, feelings don’t just go away when you avoid them. They will show up at another time, in another way. This is why honoring your feelings is a gift you give yourself. It’s a way of validating your experiences.
Feelings are also windows into what you really need. For example, your feelings of anger might be telling you that you’re overworked and tired. When you ignore your feelings, you can’t meet your own basic needs. Start paying attention to your emotions. To start, take a few minutes to sit quietly and give them space to surface. Notice what feelings emerge and try to name them.
8. Comfort yourself like a baby. Think about how you might comfort a crying baby or toddler and do the adult version for yourself!
Here are some ideas:
- a warm bath
- cozy sweater
- going to bed early
- savoring a cup of hot tea or cocoa
- lavender essential oil
- repetitive motion (walking or swinging)
- Rereading a favorite book or rewatching a favorite show
- Listening to soothing music
- Reassuring self-talk, such as, “You can handle this.”
Self-compassion doesn’t need to be complicated. Start slowly and, with practice, it will become second nature.
Remember, you deserve loving-kindness, and you can give it to yourself! You don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to do it perfectly.
© Sharon Martin. Adapted from content published on the author’s website.
Neff, K. (2023). About self-compassion. https://self-compassion.org/