that you give them to. Read on to learn some small ways to adopt self-compassion into your life!
Throughout the course of a normal week, do you find yourself harshly judging and criticizing yourself, things like your shortcomings or mistakes that you made? Take, for example, this all-too-relevant potential scenario: you didn’t do as well as you wanted on an important midterm. How do you react to this life event? Do you keep things in perspective (“I accept that I did poorly on this midterm.It’s okay though…it’s not the end of the world! I have what it takes, and this one grade doesn’t define me or my life. To do better next time, I will study more and go to office hours.”) or do you ruminate on what went wrong and emotionally beat yourself up (“I am not as good as other people…I am such an idiot…I can’t do anything right. I’m so screwed, I can’t come back up from this.”). For some folks, the latter process may hold true for them. Ironically, while it may be natural and easy for us to be compassionate toward others, it can be challenging to adopt that same mindset for ourselves.
So, what exactly is self-compassion? As leading self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff puts it, “self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.” When we nurture ourselves in both good times and bad instead of judging and appraising ourselves, we come from a place of love and gentle understanding.
In a time of adversity or personal difficulty, instead of beating yourself up, try acknowledging the difficulty of the situation and asking how you can take care of yourself in that moment. Moreover, with, self-compassion, we don’t need to base our self-worth and self-love on our achievements or desirable traits: anyone can practice self-compassion because all humans deserve compassion in their lives, including you. No longer do we need to evaluate ourselves as “good,” “bad,” “worthless,” or “not enough”; we just are who we are. Instead of appraising ourselves to be better or worse than other human beings, we just accept ourselves, as we are in each moment. We put the focus on improving our lives, as opposed to constantly comparing ourselves to others. We feel good about ourselves because we care about ourselves and understand that imperfection, vulnerability, and suffering are part of what makes us human.
Now, self-compassion doesn’t mean you shirk away your responsibilities; rather, it is more about gently acknowledging, understanding, and accepting the things that influence us and taking responsibility in a self-aware, non-judgmental way. Nor is self-compassion a weakness, an act of self-indulgence, or self-pity. Instead, with self-compassion, we have greater potential to view ourselves and our lived experiences with clarity, alleviate ourselves from suffering, strengthen our resilience and sense of accountability, and thrive and grow as individuals. You might even begin to feel a greater sense of calm in your life as you practice this mindset. Being self-compassionate is definitely an active, conscious process, so don’t get too discouraged if you find yourself reverting back to self-critical ways.
With that said, here are some ways you can nurture yourself through a self-compassionate framework: reduce your negative self-talk, write a self-compassionate letter to yourself, practice guided meditation, purposely react to yourself how you would treat a friend or loved one, memorize positive affirmations and/or compassionate phrases that you can have at your disposal throughout the day, prioritize self-care, recognize that you are not alone in your suffering, forgive yourself, validate your feelings and emotions, put things into perspective, stop striving for standards of perfection, engage in mindfulness, and surround yourself with people who support you and reinforce your self-compassion.