How to Develop Self-Compassion
To feel compassion for others, you must feel it for yourself.
Posted February 26, 2017
Recently, some people have told me that they’re either unhappy with themselves or are not feeling a great deal of self-compassion. Many individuals find they’re saddled with so many personal and professional responsibilities that thinking about themselves is last on their to-do list. While this might not seem like an overwhelming problem, over time the effects may be insidious. Fostering self-compassion can help you excel in all aspects of your life, especially on spiritual, physical, and intellectual levels.
Self-compassion is about treating yourself kindly, in much the same way you would treat a dear friend. It also means that you have a caring space within yourself that is free of judgment, and where you can be gentle with yourself. As part of her research on the topic, Kristin Neff (2016) found that there are three facets of self-compassion — self-kindness (taking time to reflect on your situation as a part of life’s journey and embracing yourself with warmth); common humanity (recognizing that we are all imperfect, and sometimes we fail); and mindfulness (which helps us gain a more balanced perspective of ourselves).
Developing self-compassion is vital, as it is a way of replenishing your energy. Even if you’re successful in your professional and personal lives, you still might not enjoy a successful work-play balance, which is the key to emotional and physical health. Part of developing compassion for yourself also involves a certain amount of self-care. Deciding what to do in this area is a personal choice, but you can begin by making a list of what brings you joy, calms you, or makes your heart sing. Engaging in self-care activities is also an optimal way to learn more about yourself.
When you schedule every minute of your day with activity, it’s easy to become depleted, which might result in exhaustion, feelings of disconnection, and being left in a weakened state. Finding the time to nurture compassion within yourself can help prevent any or all of these conditions, including burnout.
It’s unfortunate that some people may view caring about themselves as a selfish act, because, in reality, the exact opposite is true. If we take good care of ourselves, we can take better care of those with whom we interact. The truth is that the strongest and most successful people are those who feel genuine compassion for themselves, their circumstances, and others.
Having compassion for, and offering loving kindness to, yourself is a stepping-stone to having compassion for others. Instead of suppressing your pain or dissatisfaction, try to be with it and allow it to soften your emotions. When feeling compassion for others, you may tend to project kindness and empathy toward them. Self-compassion means doing the same for you. When things don’t go as planned, treat yourself as you would a friend. Be soothing, give yourself a hug, and look in the mirror and say kind words to yourself.
As author and American Buddhist Pema Chödrön (1998) says, “As the barriers come down around our own hearts, we are less afraid of other people. We are more able to hear what is being said, see what is in front of our eyes, and work in accord with what happens rather than struggle against it” (p. 237). In other words, when you have compassion for yourself, it’s easier to be compassionate toward others. You’re more likely to be able to put yourself in others’ shoes and understand what would make their hearts sing. However, it’s difficult to do so if you have no idea what makes your own heart sing.
Recent studies have shown that self-compassion writing can be very healing. Researchers Wong & Mak (2016), in their study of Chinese students, found that this type of writing facilitates compassion and emotional regulation, which can lead to substantial health benefits.
Here are some prompts to help you develop compassion for yourself. You might write about ways that you:
- Show compassion for yourself
- Show compassion for others
- Can be mindful in your daily life
You might also write about a recent painful event, where you felt bad or judged yourself, then write about the experience again — with self-compassion as your guide.
"Be gentle with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” — Lama Yeshe
Chödrön, P. (1998). “A Practice of Compassion,” In Inner Knowing by H. Palmer, Ed.
Neff, K. & Davidson, O. (2016). “Self-Compassion: Embracing Suffering with Kindness.” In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology (pp. 37–50). Rutledge.
Wong, C.Y. & W.S. Mak. (2016). “Writing Can Heal Effects of Self-Compassion Writing Among Hong Kong Chinese College Students.” Asian American Journal of Psychology. Vol 7. No. 1, pp. 74–82.