How to Practice Self-Compassion

March 14th, 2022

We often hear that we need to be kinder and less critical of ourselves, but that’s easier said than done. Often, our self-critical thoughts have been developed over so many years that we hardly even notice them happening anymore. Or, at times, we may believe we need this type of ‘tough love’ in order to motivate ourselves to be better (that we will be ‘soft’ if we are too kind to ourselves). This is untrue. Repeated criticism results in increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which leads to the body trying to protect itself by beginning to shut down (e.g., depression). So, it’s important to be aware of those critical voices and challenge them when they come up. Engaging in the practice of challenging those self-critical voices is an act of self-compassion. 

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is expressing kindness towards oneself, especially during times of pain and suffering. It includes: 

  • allowing yourself to be accepting of yourself even though you are struggling;
  • understanding that imperfection is part of the shared human experience and you are not alone in your failure, pain, or suffering; and
  • working on yourself and making changes because you care about yourself and not because you need “fixing” or “work”.

There are many benefits to self-compassion. It enhances motivation, increases kind and gentle positivity towards others, and promotes well-being.

There are three elements to self-compassion:

 1. Self-Kindness

  • Be kind to yourself in times of happiness, suffering, and feelings of failure.

2. Common Humanity

  • We are all human which means we are all imperfect and live imperfect lives.

3. Mindfulness

  • Non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of the present moment.
  • You have to recognize and feel your pain (your experience) before you can express compassion towards yourself for it.  

What’s the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem?

Sometimes people equate self-compassion with self-esteem which can make it difficult to believe that one can improve their skills when it comes to self-compassion. So, it’s important to know the difference. 

Self-esteem is typically used to describe a person’s feeling of self-worth, and while this is important, many people have a challenging time making significant changes to their self-esteem. 

Self-compassion on the other hand isn’t a judgement of self-worth or rooted in your value, it’s simply the act of treating yourself with kindness, care, and support. These are things you can do independent of self-esteem. 

Self-compassion offers the same well-being benefits without all the pitfalls such as fewer social comparisons, is less contingent on self-worth, has no association with narcissism, and buffers against negative effects of low self-esteem in adolescents.

Self-compassion is also linked to better overall coping and resilience, as well as provides individuals with some of the following benefits: 

  • Reductions in negative mind-states such as anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, thought suppression, perfectionism, and shame
  • Increases in positive mind-states such as life satisfaction, happiness, connectedness, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation, desire to learn and grow, optimism, curiosity and gratitude
  • More effective coping with divorce and chronic pain
  • Less likely to develop PTSD after combat trauma
  • Greater perceived competence
  • Less fear of failure, more likely to try again and persist in efforts after failure
  • Linked to personal accountability
  • More conscientiousness
  • Taking greater responsibility for past mistakes
  • A greater disposition to apologize
  • Healthier behaviours such as increased exercise, safer sex, quitting bad habits such as smoking, decreased alcohol use and increased doctors visits
  • Enhanced immune response to stress
  • Fewer physical symptoms (e.g., aches, colds, etc.)
  • Healthier body image and eating behaviour
  • Linked to better romantic relationships
  • Less controlling and verbal aggression
  • Increased forgiveness and perspective-taking

How to Practice Self-Compassion

It’s important to remember that self-compassion is going to take practice – it isn’t something you are going to develop or improve on overnight. That being said, it’s a practice that is worth investing in knowing the numerous benefits for your overall physical and psychological health, wellness and resilience. But how do we start practicing self-compassion? 

A great place to start is with mindfulness. To be compassionate towards yourself, you need to be mindful of your pain and suffering; recognize it, allow yourself to feel it, and embrace it. Mindfulness is a practice that helps you to become more attuned with your emotions and will help you to more easily identify the moments where self-compassion is needed and where your voice is the most self-critical. Learn more about practicing mindfulness on our blog. 

Once you’ve begun to recognize your self-critical voice, you can start to practice making changes to it and providing yourself with self-compassion in those moments instead. It can be challenging to practice self-compassion, which is why we have developed a self-compassion challenge. The goal by the end of the challenge is to give you the skills you need to effectively take a self-compassion break to improve your mental health. The challenge allows you to take one task each day, so you can start to build your self-compassion toolbox over time. 

6 ways to practice self-compassion:

  1. Challenge your critical voice.
  2. Forgive yourself regularly. 
  3. Build a self-compassion mantra.
  4. Practice self-care.
  5. Show compassion for others. 
  6. Appreciate yourself.
Ph.D., RCC
Psychological Health & Safety Clinic
Vancouver, V6B 0L1

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