When people we care about are having a hard time, we usually treat them with kindness, understanding, and respect — yet when we are the ones having a hard time, we are often quick to be unkind. We may get angry, frustrated, and impatient with ourselves, even calling ourselves nasty names. Have you ever responded to yourself in an unkind way before? I most certainly have.
Having compassion for ourselves is a powerful act of self-love
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.
Self-compassion is the care and nurturing that we offer ourselves when we make mistakes, embarrass ourselves, or come short of a goal we were hoping to achieve. It is the acknowledgment of our pain and the rejection of the notion that we should just “tough it out.”
Just think how many times you may have witnessed someone else’s suffering or hardship and how your heart was moved by their pain. For example, imagine your best friend (or even a stranger) is feeling bad about themselves or is struggling in some way. Compassion for them and their situation might lead you to offer a listening ear, a comforting hug, or maybe some kind words of encouragement.
Now consider for a moment how you respond when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling in some way. What do you typically think and do? What do you say to yourself? Even your tone of voice matters. Do you offer yourself the same kind of love and supportive care?
If your answer is no, you’re not alone. Loving yourself and extending self-compassion can be much easier said than done.
Four tips to cultivate self-compassion
Acknowledge your pain. Notice the fact that you’re hurting, and allow yourself to mourn the fact that you are not perfect. Are your friends perfect? No, right? Learn to resist the temptation to pretend that nothing’s wrong or that your feelings don’t matter, because they do. Failure, suffering, and imperfection are all a part of the shared human experience.
Adapt a new perspective. View your situation through the lens of a best friend or a caring individual. When you’re tempted to be self-critical or judgmental, try to speak to yourself as someone who cares about you would. If your best friend was feeling this same way or had this same situation, would you dare say mean and critical things to them? Imagine what you would say to them and how you’d want them to feel.
Practice often. Being self-compassionate is not a quality that typically comes innately for most people. Depending on your childhood circumstances, this may or may not have been a skill that you learned. Unfortunately, responding to ourselves unkindly can become a habit. The great news is that we can practice this skill as an adult until it becomes a part of our healthy lifestyle.
Find the balance. Cut yourself some slack when you slip up or if things don’t go your way, while still being accountable for your actions. (We are not making excuses for poor behavior here.) Think kind encouraging thoughts about yourself when things are fantastic, and also when they’re not going so well — both are equally important.
How can this help your life?
Research supports the idea that when you are able to take your successes and failures in stride, you may find that you are less afraid of failure and more satisfied with your life. People who practice self-compassion are more likely to eat well, exercise, and take good care of themselves even when stressed.
I have experienced the gift of self-compassion first-hand. It has empowered me to procrastinate less and reach toward the fullness of my dreams. It has given me permission to feel what I feel and then get up and try again without judgment.
It’s also allowed me to take ownership of the role I may play in a problem, remain open to feedback, and grow from every situation. And on top of that, learning how to be my best friend has helped me accomplish 40 pounds of weight loss, which I have kept off for the past 10 years.
Practicing self-compassion is everything, my friends. I sure hope you’re feeling me on this. The next time you’re tempted to give yourself a hard time, please check your thoughts at the door. Let’s face it — if your so-called best friend kept speaking to you in a mean or condescending way, you wouldn’t put up with it for long (if at all), right? So why should you put up with it from yourself? You shouldn’t — you’re way too valuable for that.
It’s time to put your self-critic out. Now say hello and invite your new best friend to come in.
By practicing these tips, you can increase your sense of personal well-being in every area of your life. I can’t wait for you to try it. And PLEASE share your thoughts when you do.
Nicole Pillow welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.