A student once said to me, “I don’t understand. You have so much compassion for your students, even those who don’t deserve it, but you seem to have no idea how to be self-compassionate.” I thought a lot about that statement over the years.
The truth is, I didn’t understand either. When a student was late turning in a paper, I believed that they may have had unexpected work, children, or illness issues going on in their lives. When they earned a bad grade, I looked for their strengths, so I could encourage them. When I found their weaknesses, I told them, “It’s okay. You can work on this. No one does anything great without practice.”
On the other hand, I gave none the self-compassion benefits to myself. Instead of understanding that I was pressed for time, I looked for ways to create more time even at the expense of sleep and family. In fact, I often took on more responsibilities than time allowed. Then, if I did a bad job, I would beat myself up for not putting in a better effort even though I did my best.
I had it in my mind that I could be everything to everyone. I was a superwoman capable of solving the world’s problems. I could do anything I set my mind to. While that’s a great positive attitude, it simply isn’t true for anyone.
When you’re trying to do the impossible, you will fail. I failed a lot and beat myself up for it. I needed to learn how to develop self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
While self-compassion is often tied with both self-esteem and self-love, the three are very different concepts.
- Self-esteem involves your beliefs about your self-worth. Someone with high self-esteem might feel confident about how their body looks.
Self-love encourages you to treat yourself with kindness by taking care of your well-being. Someone with high self-love will nourish their body with the things it needs to stay in good shape.
Self-compassion lets you be kind to yourself in the face of failure. Someone who knows how to be self-compassionate will say to themselves, “This was your first try. You will do better next time.”
Having self-compassion (https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-compassion) and well-being means extending grace to yourself as you would to others. Compassion for others involves these three elements.
- Extending kindness by avoiding harsh and unnecessary criticism.
- Understanding that humanity isn’t about perfection. We all have our flaws.
- Paying mindful attention to others without passing judgment.
Do You Have Self-Compassion?
Ask yourself these three questions:
- Do I often criticize my behavior or looks?
- Do berate myself when I make a mistake?
- Do I judge myself harshly with phrases like “I can’t…” and “I’m not good at…”?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you could benefit by learning how to be self-compassionate.
Learn How to Treat Yourself with Kindness
Learning self-compassion is easy, and when you do, you will reap the benefits of a more joyful life. Try these techniques to develop self-compassion.
Forgive Yourself: Forgiving others can be difficult, but for some, forgiving themselves is nearly impossible. It’s because they have that critic living inside their head that replays their wrongdoings over and over. The worst part is that it’s difficult to filter out the judgment that this critic puts on you. However, forgiving yourself is important to learning how to be self-compassionate. In fact, forgiving yourself allows you to change the way you think about the things you feel guilty for, and it gives you the closure you need to end self-punishment, so you can begin to treat yourself with kindness.
One good technique for forgiving yourself is to consider whether you would forgive your best friend for the same mistake (https://self-compassion.org/exercise-1-treat-friend/). For example, if your friend tells you she feels guilty for yelling at her children, you might remind her that parenting is tough and tell her that she just needs a break. You might even reward her by offering to babysit so she can get out. In this way, you are offering her the forgiveness you should be offering yourself under the same circumstances.
Learn Self Awareness: To become self-aware, you need to look inward. This means clearly understanding your values, purpose, passions, strengths, weaknesses, and feelings. While this look inward is reflective of your own perspective, you should also address it from the perspective of others. If they were to honestly tell you how they see your values, purpose, strengths, weaknesses, and feelings, what would they say?
When you have an honest understanding of who you are, you will lessen self-judgment and develop self-compassion. For example, if you know that you value living within your means over owning a large house, you can be proud of yourself for sticking to your budget rather than judgmental for not owning a home as large as your friends’.
Accept Your Humanity: No, you are not perfect, nor will you ever be. You are going to make mistakes just like everyone else and making those mistakes doesn’t make you less of a person. Nurture your self-compassion and well-being by reminding yourself that you are human and allowed to be imperfect.
Take Care of Yourself: Treat yourself with kindness. Do things that make you feel better both emotionally and physically. For example, exercising releases endorphins that improve mood. At the same time, it also increases your stamina and improves overall health. When you learn how to be self-compassionate, you improve your well-being.
Offer Yourself a Dose of Encouragement: During stressful or difficult times, take a moment to give yourself a pep talk. Be your own best friend, and using your own name, talk to yourself saying the things you imagine a friend would tell you.
Change Your Perspective on Mistakes: Instead of seeing only the losses in a mistake, develop self-compassion by looking for ways to see the gains. For example, every bad decision creates an opportunity to learn something new. If you miss a deadline, look for ways you can be more efficient next time. If you finish a work project having done it wrong, ask what you need to do to get it right. If you hurt someone’s feelings, evaluate the situation and determine what you can do different next time.
Find Gratitude in What You Have: Fretting about what you don’t have can make you feel not good enough. On the other hand, gratitude for what you do have replaces those feelings with appreciation and joy. Get a gratitude journal and start writing in it daily.
Make a List of Positive Affirmations: If you find it easier to berate yourself over your shortcomings than celebrate yourself for your talents, try creating a list of positive affirmations that you can post in obvious places or that you can memorize. Then spend some time each day saying the affirmations to help you develop self-compassion. For example, I keep affirmations from my list posted around the house. I have them on my refrigerator, written on my bathroom mirror, and posted at my bedside. I even keep one on the front door, so I can read it as I leave the house. This practice will help you treat yourself with kindness.
Learning how to be self-compassionate takes work, but when you develop self-compassion, you improve your life in ways that lead to inner peace and joy. In the end, you will begin to treat yourself with kindness because you have discovered that you are worth it.
Have you used a unique technique to develop self-compassion? Please let us know. We would love to hear from you.