Compassion. Do you practice it? Towards others? Here is a definition of what compassion is:
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
But I’m not talking about compassion for others – because for a lot of us, that seems to come easy. I’m talking about how to show compassion to ourselves.
And guess what. I don’t have the answers.
At the time of this post going live, we are in the middle of COVID, and also less than four weeks out from the murder of George Flyod. In case you didn’t know, I live less than 10 miles from the murder site of George Floyd. To say life has turned even more upside down since the murder happened would be an understatement.
In a therapy session earlier this week, my assignment from my therapist was to show myself more compassion. With everything going on, my anxiety has been through the roof and I was beating myself up about it. Trying to work from home with a four year old has me feeling pulled in different directions – not being able to be fully present as an employee or a mom. I could go on.
After the therapy session, I tried to think of ways I could show myself compassion. This was not the first time the idea of this has come up in my session. I honestly could not think of one way that I could start practicing more compassion to myself.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle. I asked on Instagram and Facebook stories what are some ways you show yourself compassion. And I got TWO responses. Two. That’s it.
What’s more, I had more people reach out and say they also struggle with showing themselves compassion. And spoiler, it was more than two people.
So what is all this lack of compassion towards ourselves doing for us? NOTHING!
How does self compassion help?
“…studies have shown that self-criticism can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression.”
The good news is that the opposite is true.
According to one source:
“Self-compassion has been linked to greater well-being, including diminished anxiety and depression, better emotional coping skills and compassion for others.”
Convinced? I am.
I knew I had to dig in and do some more research, because I know that I and you deserve self-compassion. And here’s the thing with all mental clutter (the beating yourself up, the down talk, the ruminating thoughts…that’s all unhelpful mental clutter), it takes away our mental and physical energy needed to be present for ourselves, our family, our community, our earth, and ALL the work that we do and want to do.
Plus, you and I deserve to have that mental clarity and peace. It’s true! Because I know you do so much for others, and it’s time to give back to yourself.
Additionally, I know this is cliche, but showing up for yourself means you can show up for others better. I know you know that, but it’s worth repeating.
““If an individual is geared toward neglecting the self while doting on others, this uneven balance will eventually take its toll. When a person has true compassion for the self, that compassion then supports healthy, balanced relationships.””
The three components of self compassion
Upon research, I found that self-compassion contains multiple pieces (source):
“Self-kindness: Being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you’re suffering.
Common humanity: Realizing that you’re not alone in your struggles. When we’re struggling, we tend to feel especially isolated. We think we’re the only ones to experience loss, make mistakes, feel rejected or fail. But it’s these very struggles that are part of our shared experience as humans.
Mindfulness: Observing life as it is, without being judgmental or suppressing your thoughts and feelings.”
Related post: The Secret to Making Time for Self Care
Self compassion myths
There are a lot of myths around self compassion that simply are just that – myths. Here are some common ones:
- Self compassion is selfish
- I won’t be able to motivate myself if I am not hard on myself
- It shows weakness to practice self compassion
How to practice self compassion (with examples)
Journal: free writing, brain dump, gratitude
Show yourself some kindness by getting all those unhelpful and non-productive thoughts out of your head and down onto paper. You don’t have to make it pretty, grammatically correct, or even full paragraphs. Sometimes, I just write down bullet points. Sometimes my writing is illegible. The important piece is to just get it out of your head. Bonus: if you’re dealing with racing thoughts, writing things down by hand can help! We write slower than our thoughts manifest, so we can interrupt that cycle by doing a brain dump.
After you write out all of the unhelpful thoughts, bring out your compassion by going through and countering them to showcase that they’re simply not true.
Self compassion example:
My son wanted me to play with him a lot today, and I wasn’t able to. I feel like I’m an awful mother and that I’m letting him down.
Counter: Yes, I wasn’t able to play with my son as much as he and I would have liked today, and that’s OK. He had the opportunity to be bored (re: build creativity), and learn independent play – and he had fun!
Related post: Why you Need More Gratitude in your Life Right. Now.
Pretend you are talking to a friend
We regularly talk to others with kindness and compassion. But when it comes to yourself, we are harsh and mean. If you’re finding yourself with unhelpful thoughts, imagine what you would tell a friend in the same situation. On the other hand, if you find yourself with negative self-talk, ask yourself if you would say the same things to a friend. If not, you’re being too harsh.
Honestly, this tactic has helped me the most in cutting down on the negative self-talk cycle I find myself in.
Self compassion example:
Say you reacted badly to a situation with your mom, and you’re beating yourself up about it. You’re going over the conversation, thinking of things you should have said instead of what you did, and telling yourself you suck, and did a horrible thing.
Now, imagine what you would tell a friend. Perhaps it would go something like this: Ugh, that sounds like a tough situation in which both parties reacted negatively. I’m sorry that happened. Remember that you’re human and your emotions are valid. What do you think you will do to make amends?
This one can be so hard, but also incredibly freeing. Often, we hold on to stuff that happened years prior all because we can’t forgive. Or, we don’t want to forgive because we think we deserve to beat ourselves up for something. But all that extra mental clutter is not benefiting anyone – nor is beating yourself up about something.
To start, refer to the tip before this one: address how you’d talk to a friend about the same thing. I’m guessing you wouldn’t advise them to keep holding onto something!
I know this can be hard, and take some time. It might also require help from a mental health professional depending on the situation. And that’s OK!
However, to get started, you can look in the mirror and just say, I forgive you for ‘x’. And repeat. It may feel awkward and not genuine at first, but eventually, you may start to believe it.
Self compassion example: While looking in the mirror (or if even that is too tough, consider starting by writing this down in a notebook), say: “I forgive myself for x, y, z. I did my best/learned my lesson/vow to do better moving forward/was just a kid/am human.” Repeat.
Talk to 5-year-old self
Along with talking to myself like I would talk to a friend, this tip is helpful in practicing self-compassion. I like to think of my anxiety as my brain doing it’s job on overload. It helps even more to imagine my anxiety (or ego) as a five year old trying to protect me. Having a 4.5 year old myself, I can imagine how well that would go in some situations. The intention would be there, but because he is 4.5 years old, it wouldn’t always work so well.
So, what would I say to my 4.5 year old?
Self compassion example: I would say something like, thank you so much for trying to protect me, but I got this. I know you’re just doing your job, but I can handle this. And repeat.
Adopt self compassion affirmations or mantras
Sometimes a mantra or two is all that is needed to get grounded and to a space where you can practice one of the other tips for self compassion. I personally love mantras. Sometimes, I journal (see first tip) and just write down different mantras.
Mantras are also great because you can write them down almost anywhere for reminders throughout your day.
Here are some examples of mantras that can help you practice self compassion:
- I am not perfect, and that is OK
- I am a human being and I will make mistakes, and that’s OK
- I accept myself as I am
I am enough
Related post: 5 Ways to Meditate without Actually Meditating
Be aware of classic anxiety terms
“Should”, “Never”, “Could”, “Always”. These are classic ego/anxiety terms. “I always screw this up”, or “I should be doing this better for my kids” are not only not helpful, but I’m going to bet that they aren’t true!
If you can catch yourself saying these types of phrases, you can acknowledge that this is your anxiety/ego talking, and then apply one of the other tips mentioned in this post above or below.
Self compassion example:
Me: Ugh, I should really be cleaning today, but my body is tired and I want to rest. I should clean…
With compassion: I notice my thoughts are saying “I should”, which is a classic anxiety/ego term and not necessarily the truth. I’m tired today, and the cleaning can wait until tomorrow or after I rest. I’m human and I deserve to rest too.
Related post: The Top 3 Ways to Reduce Mental Clutter
Accept that you’re imperfect
I used to glorify my perfectionist tendencies. I used to think it meant I was detail oriented, and that I cared so much about my work I spent as much time as needed making things perfect. While I am still detail oriented, I now know that perfectionism is just a manifestation of anxiety.
When I would spend hours making something “perfect”, it really was because I was scared of x, y, z (impostor syndrome, fear of looking foolish, fear of being called out, fear of….)
I know that I’m not perfect. And I can’t be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. If you’re human, you’re not going to be perfect. That’s really all there is to it. By truly acknowledging this, it lets off some of the pressure we put on ourselves.
Self compassion example:
Me: Getting frustrated that I can’t finish a blog post because it is not “perfect”.
With compassion: I can see that I’m spending a lot of time on this blog post. Am I feeling nervous about publishing it? Why? Is that going to change if I keep working on it?
Start practicing self compassion mindfulness
Is there anything that mindfulness DOESN’T work on? I’m thinking NOPE. In fact, mindfulness is one of the core components of self compassion (as noted above.)
According to mindful.org, here are some ways that mindfulness and self compassion go hand in hand:
- Mindfulness focuses primarily on acceptance of experience itself. Self-compassion focuses more on caring for the experiencer.
- Mindfulness asks, “What am I experiencing right now?” Self-compassion asks, “What do I need right now?”
Mindfulness says, “Feel your suffering with spacious awareness.” Self-compassion says, “Be kind to yourself when you suffer.”
The great thing is that mindfulness can be incorporated into every aspect of your life, and can be a gateway into practicing self compassion.
I’ve got a couple of resources you can utilize on learning how to incorporate mindfulness into your life.
The first is a free, seven day mindfulness course, where you’ll learn a new mindfulness exercise each day. You can sign up for that here.
The second is this post, where I list out 14 mindfulness exercises you can do during uncertain times (or really, any time.)
Self compassion example:
Me: I find myself feeling frustrated and being hard on myself because I made a mistake on a project for work/volunteer/whatever.
Mindfulness: I can see that I’m being really hard on myself for messing up, and saying/thinking things I would never tell a friend.
Compassion: What would I tell a friend in this exact same situation? I would tell them that we are all humans, and we make mistakes. Try to acknowledge that you are a human being and will make mistakes, and that’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes. What is important is not dwelling on the mistake, but moving forward in determining how it can be fixed.
Loving kindness meditation
If you need to practice self compassion, loving kindness meditation is a good start. The meditation walks through sending love and kindness (hence the name) not only to yourself, but other people in your life. It usually is a shorter meditation – about 15 minutes or less – and really helps get into the self compassion mindset.
You can find loving kindness meditation all over the internet, but I really like ‘Flower Garden – Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta)’ by Aya Khema on Insight Timer (a free meditation app.)
Additionally, if you are looking for more meditations, here are some others for practicing self compassion.
Related post: 2-Minute Self-Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Celebrate your wins
When we’re so hard on ourselves, we often just focus on the things we didn’t do well (according to us), instead of looking at all of the things we’ve done well.
There is a reason our brains remember negative things over positive ones, and it has to do with how we evolved as humans. Back in the day (like, way, way back), we had to remember “bad” things like the plant that is poisonous, or that saber tooth tigers may try and eat us.
Nowadays, when our brain perceives something as a threat, it holds on to that as a means of protection, even though most of the things we don’t need.
By reminding ourselves of our accomplishments, we can work to break up the pattern of non-self compassion thinking. Need help? Take a few minutes to write a list of the things you’re really proud of in your life. Any time you are having thoughts that aren’t productive and downplay your abilities, take a look at the list for a reminder.
Self compassion example:
Me: Man, I really screwed up this morning when I raised my voice at my son out of frustration. I am always doing this and then feeling so guilty.
Yes, I raised my voice. But I apologized and talked with my son about how I make mistakes too. One thing that I know I do well is make sure to spend a little time each day playing with him, one-on-one.
Don’t fall into the comparison trap
There hasn’t been a time (at least that I can remember) where I found comparing myself to others has left me feeling good. To practice self compassion for yourself, this has to be an activity we stop. Unfollow people on social media who don’t make you feel good about yourself – as social media tends to be a common area that breeds comparison. I’m sure you know, but social media, our friends’ lives, our neighbors’ fancy stuff…this is all the highlight reel that they’re putting out. Underneath the highlights are all the common struggles we all face. Reminding yourself of this can be helpful.
If you do find yourself in a comparison trap, interrupt those thoughts with gratitude in order to practice self compassion. This works because when we compare, our mind looks for what we are lacking, but when we counter those thoughts with things we are thankful for, we are reminded of all the good things we have.
Self compassion example:
Me: Man, Chrissy seems like she has it all together. She’s got the Pinterest/minimalist kitchen, home cooked meals every night, and takes her kids to the park every day. Meanwhile, my son ate macaroni and cheese for lunch, and the leftovers for dinner. Cold (his choice, but still.) Cue feeling crappy about myself.
Gratitude: I’m so thankful I have a kid who is perfectly happy eating cold macaroni and cheese for dinner, so I can catch up on some work I didn’t get to during the day.
Reminder: Chrissy may seem like she has it all together, but I’m sure she cleaned up her kitchen for the photo, and she should be proud of her hard work. It looks great.
Know you’re not alone
Often when we deal with anxious thoughts, or when we beat ourselves up, we are convinced that we are alone in whatever we are experiencing, which can then make the thoughts worse. But here’s what I’ve learned. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, that I’ve thought about has been something my mind and my mind alone cooked up (yes, I’ve asked my therapist.) And even more, I would beg to argue that these things are so much more common than we realize. Realizing and reminding myself that the things I’m experiencing are what other people experience takes away some of the power of the thoughts, and allows peace and calm to slowly seep in.
Self compassion example: Mom guilt. I think we, as moms, all feel it at some point or another. So why is it that we feel so alone in our guilt? When I start feeling guilty about something, I try to remind myself that I’m not alone in this guilt. If I’m still feeling down, I’ll talk to a trusted person – a fellow mom friend, my husband, my mom, etc. – and tell them how I’m feeling.
If no one is available, or if I’m not feeling in the mood, I’ll practice what I would say to a friend experiencing the same guilt, and write down what I would say. Then say it to myself.
Related post: Anxiety Stories | Normalizing Anxiety in Today’s World
Know that you probably don’t have the full story
Earlier this year, while working through some traumas with my therapist, I adopted the mantra of “that’s not my story.” See, my anxiety LOVES to make up all sorts of stories, and they usually don’t come out in favor of me. The truth of the matter is, our brains like certainty. They like to have the perception of being in control. So when we don’t have the full story about a situation, it will try to fill it in based on past experiences and beliefs, because that’s all it has to go on.
Self compassion example: I have major health anxiety. Often, whenever something in my body feels “off”, my mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. Once I become aware of that, I calmly tell myself that in the here and now, whatever catastrophic thing I’ve come up with is not my story, and that I am OK. Because even if something was wrong that I didn’t know about, as far as I know in that immediate moment, I am OK.
Showing ourselves and practicing self compassion can be tricky to navigate, especially at first if we’re not used to it. However, with practice (and self compassion for ourselves and our learning process – see what I did there?), we can move forward with showing ourselves more kindness every day.
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