“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect” – Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
Life can be hard. We all screw up sometimes. We get frustrated and lose our temper. We regret things said or left unsaid. Our children struggle with learning disabilities or anxiety or any number of things. We hurt deep inside about harm caused to us as children. Our loved ones die. We get laid-off and can’t pay the rent. Unfortunately, we all experience pain at various times in our lives.
We all deserve comfort in these moments of pain. You can be your greatest source of comfort. There’s no one better for the job since you will always have yourself and you will always know what you need. That being said, I know it’s not always easy to learn how to be kind to yourself.
Simple ways to practice self-compassion:
1. Acknowledge that you’re struggling. This is the first step in any self-compassion practice. If you push away the difficult feelings or live in denial, you will see no reason to treat yourself with compassion. Struggling isn’t weakness or failure. It’s simply humanness. Acknowledge that you’re having a hard time with something or someone without judgement. Start by saying, “This is really hard. It would be hard for anyone.”
2. Accept that you’re imperfect and that’s normal. You can stop trying to be perfect, stop trying to prove your worth by doing more and being who you think everyone wants you to be. When you make a mistake, experience failure, or notice your own shortcomings, give yourself some love rather than punishment. Criticisms and punishments do not motivate people to change.
3. Give yourself compliments. A good friend not only lifts you up when you’re down, she also congratulates you on your promotion and gives you a high-five for making it to the gym five times this week. Give yourself the same kudos by saying, “I’m so proud of you for getting to work on time” or “Yea me! I made it through that meeting without losing my temper.” You do a lot of things right. Make sure you’re paying attention!
4. Ask for help. A lot of people resist asking for help when they’re having a hard time. Remember that friends and family actually like to help each other out. They don’t want you to suffer alone. Allow them the privilege of helping you and trust that they’ll say “No” if they can’t.
5. Slow down. Many people use busyness as a form of avoidance. They use it to avoid their feelings, avoid saying “No,” avoid disappointing people, and avoid making decisions. It’s easier to leave life on autopilot, but slowing down allows you to turn inward and listen to what your body, heart, and mind are telling you. This will help you to understand what you really need right now. It’s hard to meet your own needs when you don’t know what they are.
6. Set boundaries. Sometimes it feels like setting limits is hurtful, but boundaries are a way of loving yourself and others. Healthy boundaries demonstrate self-respect by setting clear expectations for how people can treat you and how you will treat them.
7. Give yourself lots of treats. Treats are nice things you do for yourself for no particular reason. Unlike rewards, treats don’t need to be earned by good behaviour. The only rule is that self-compassionate treats need to be good for you (sorry, peanut M&Ms really aren’t self-compassionate).
8. Journal. Writing is one of my favourite ways to understand my feelings. You don’t have to keep a formal journal to make this effective. You can write notes on your phone, write down your thoughts and then shred them, make an audio recording, or use an app such as Pacifica. The point is simply to check-in with yourself and find out how you’re doing. It’s amazing how rarely we do this without a prompt or routine to remind us.
9. Calm yourself like a baby. Think about how you might calm a crying a baby or toddler and do the adult version for yourself! Try a warm bath, a soft fuzzy robe, a cup of hot tea, lavender essential oil, a massage, repetitive motion (walking or swinging), reading, relaxing music, or calming self-talk such as, “It’s going to be OK.”
Self-compassion doesn’t need to be complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it may feel very strange at first. Remember that you deserve loving kindness just as everyone else does. You don’t have to earn it and you don’t have to do it perfectly.