Are you kind to yourself?
When I first heard of self-compassion being used as an effective way to relieve distress when going through a difficult time, I was sceptical, maybe even dismissive. Then I came across this question, "When you are having a hard time coping with difficult thoughts and feelings around what is happening in your life – what would a good friend say to you?" This was gold dust for me. It’s so simple and so effective and the best example of self-compassion. Once I heard that, I sat up, took notice and have never looked back.
You see, a good friend, someone you trust and love usually offers kind and supportive words (and/or affection) when you’re going through a hard time. Have you ever noticed your own self-talk? I’m certain it’s harsher and more critical than the words of a good friend. Why should this be? Would you not offer supportive, kind words to a good friend who was in your situation? Do we not love ourselves enough to give ourselves the same compassion as we would others?
This is where the journey of self-compassion begins. Really, it’s not just a journey of self-compassion, it’s about loving ourselves enough to be kind to ourselves in times of need. Don’t we all deserve that?
What is self-compassion?
Simply put, self-compassion is when we learn to be a good friend to ourselves in difficult times. Dr. Kristin Neff has done huge amounts of research into self-compassion over the past 20 years and this definition has derived from her work. There are three core components that make up self-compassion, these are:
When we make a mistake or act in a way we don’t like, we find it very easy to criticise ourselves. It seems to be a lot easier to be negative towards ourselves than be kind and compassionate, like we would towards others, especially those close to us.
Self-kindness is about being warm, supportive, caring and encouraging to ourselves at any time that we are suffering. This alone gives us a feeling of being seen and heard, of unconditional acceptance, validation and support, similar to the feelings we experience when we receive kind words from another.
2. Common humanity
All this means is to remember that we are all in it together! Everyone makes mistakes, and has hard times and life challenges – it is not just you. When we are going through a difficult time, it’s easy to forget that someone has walked in our shoes before and felt what we are feeling.
Self-compassion reminds us that we are all human and the importance of feeling connected to others versus feeling alone. This interconnectedness is key to self-compassion.
To be able to respond to ourselves with kindness, we first need to be able to be aware and acknowledge that we are suffering and/or in pain. Mindfulness is about being in the moment and the ability to turn towards our emotions, instead of resisting and trying to push them away/avoid.
When practising mindfulness, it gives us the space to be in the present moment and aware of what we are feeling/thinking/experiencing which, in turn, gives us the time and space to be able to consciously respond instead of being on auto-pilot.
How can self-compassion help you?
Once I started practising self-compassion (I will share some exercises to increase self-compassion a bit later), I noticed I was able to cope better in stressful situations. I felt calmer, more grounded and perhaps the best feeling of all – empowered.
Being a coach, mindfulness teacher and ACT practitioner, I have many tools that I can use when I’m facing difficult situations or emotions. However, the simple concept of self-compassion has blown me away. I have found that my relationship with myself has developed and changed, and my whole mindset is different.
Self-compassion has been shown to increase levels of well-being, with self-compassionate people tending to suffer less anxiety and depression and have better health, relationships and more resilience when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges.
The great thing about working with self-compassion is it’s a skill that you have likely already learnt, albeit towards others. We all practice giving compassion to others but rarely give it to ourselves. It is an effective way to reduce suffering and manage difficult life challenges that is accessible to anyone at any time!
How can you start becoming more self-compassionate?
Here are a few of my favourite exercises to increase your self-compassion.
1. The practice of noticing
As mentioned earlier, the first step to developing mindfulness is becoming aware, noticing your thoughts and reactions and knowing you’re suffering. A great, simple exercise to do this is the practice of noticing.
Take five minutes a day for a week (more if you’re able). For those five minutes, try and notice sounds, smells, what you see, etc. You can do this just quietly sitting or when out and about such as on your way to work or the school run, etc. You will be surprised by how many things you notice that you haven’t previously on the other countless times you’ve made the same journey/sat in the same spot. It makes us realise how much we spend our lives on auto-pilot.
You will most likely find that your mind will begin to wander to the things you need to do that day or things you’ve forgotten to do! It’s completely normal, just acknowledge the thoughts and bring your awareness back to something you can see, hear or smell.
2. Write a self-compassion journal
If you like writing/journaling this one’s for you (my personal favourite)! Journaling is a great way to express emotions.
There is a little bit more of a structure to writing a self-compassion journal than a standard journal entry, as it ensures to encompass the three core components of self-compassion, I really love this one and find it so effective.
First, think about the day’s events and write down anything that you feel bad about, feel judged for (from others or yourself) or any difficult experience.
For each event, try to relate to it in a self-compassionate way by:
The mindful part of the journaling is writing about how you felt (e.g. Anxious, angry, sad, etc) and trying your best to bring a balanced awareness to what happened/how you felt and to not judge yourself.
Thinking about common humanity
Write down ways in which your experience was part of being human, acknowledging that, as humans, we all have painful experiences and are imperfect. There may have been something about the situation that made your response worse (e.g. If the traffic hadn’t been particularly bad that day meaning I was late for the appointment, which exacerbated my emotions when X happened as I was already feeling frustrated and flustered).
Being kind to yourself
Write some kind, understanding words, things you would say to a good friend. Ask yourself, what would a good friend say to me right now? Let yourself know that you care about your own well-being and happiness. It’s generally this part of the journaling that you realise how harsh your inner voice can really be.
3. Increasing self-compassion through touch and movement
This is great for 'in the moment', for example, if you are at work or in a public place. It may also be a preferred exercise for those of you that love physical affection and really benefit from a hug!
The most obvious is you can quite literally give yourself a hug (cross your arms around yourself), if you are in a public place, you can place one arm over the other on your lap, give yourself a squeeze and imagine receiving a hug.
Here are some other suggestions for when you feel you need some love and support:
- One hand over your heart.
- Two hands over your heart.
- One hand on your heart and one on your belly.
- Two hands on your belly.
- Gently stroking your arms.
- Cradling your face in your hands.
You can experiment with what works best for you. I like to do one of these (my favourite is one hand on my heart and the other on my belly) and then repeat a supporting statement to myself (usually I say to myself, "I’ve got you") just to let myself know I’ve got support within me.
4. Self-compassion mantra
When you realise you are in pain or experiencing upsetting emotions, you can say to yourself a memorised self-compassion mantra. For this to work effectively, it needs to encompass the three components of self-compassion (mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness). This is my one but you can adapt it as you wish:
I’m having a really hard time right now.
Everyone feels this way sometimes.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
I will try to give myself the compassion I need.
These are great reminders (I like to put mine on the bathroom mirror so I see them every morning and evening) and can be even more powerful if said to yourself whilst looking in the mirror. Of course, these are very personal to you, they can be very focused on self-compassion such as:
"May I be kind to myself."
Or they can be more general:
"I love myself for who I am."
"I am enough."
There are lots of variations but you get the gist, I would recommend no more than three at a time and to repeat at least once a day (more if you can).
There are many more exercises to increase and develop self-compassion, I have just chosen a few that I think are nice ones to begin your journey.