Just about everyone knows what compassion is and why it is such an important aspect of the human experience. Simply put, compassion involves a deep understanding and feeling for the suffering of others, often accompanied by a desire to help alleviate it. Self-compassion is no different, except the recipient is oneself. Many people believe (and I was one of them), that they should put the needs of others before their own. Being compassionate toward themselves may be viewed as being selfish or self-indulgent. Not so! Think of it as analogous to the instructions given on every flight, for the adults to put the oxygen mask on themselves before placing it on their children. The idea being that if you ignore your own needs, you will become depleted.
Here are a few ways to increase self-compassion.
1. Using Mindfulness
It’s helpful to approach your emotions and thoughts like you’re a scientist noticing your experiences, by observing and describing them with no judgments. You can also notice judgments of yourself, and then let them go as though your mind was made of Teflon. You should also pay attention to your breath and any physical feelings and/or sensations. Lastly, I always repeat to myself “It is what it is:.”
2. Practicing Radical Acceptance
This technique focuses on accepting something that has happened despite the fact that you don’t like it. Remember, accepting doesn’t mean supporting or condoning what occurred, it just means you have no control over changing it. Also, keep in mind the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is an inevitable part of life, however, suffering occurs that when we try to resist our pain and fight reality. Hint: if you are saying to yourself, I should’ve, could’ve or would’ve, you are not practicing acceptance.
3. Recognize your Common Humanity
Recognize your common humanity by reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes and it’s natural to feel remorse. Offer yourself forgiveness, and view mistakes as opportunities to try to better understand the contributing factors and learn from them. Then, you won’t be destined to repeat them.
4. Change How You Respond to Yourself
Instead of trying to stop the pain, acknowledge what you’re experiencing. Try to tell yourself “This is such a painful experience”. Practice being gentle and soothing yourself because you’re in pain. Place your hands over your heart and feel your body breathe. Repeat to yourself “May I forgive myself,” and “May I be kind to myself”.
Remember, that beating yourself up with harsh criticism and judgments leads to misery and feelings of isolation. Self-compassion creates motivation from the desire to be kind to yourself, be healthy and live well.