“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”
—Christopher Germer, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
“Son, what would you say to a client if he or she were in the same situation?” my dad asked.
“Excuse me?” I asked a bit taken back by the insightful question.
He repeated himself, “What would you say to a client if he or she were in the same situation as you?”
“I’d probably tell them that we all make mistakes and their mistake is not one that is unforgivable or unfixable,” I replied.
“Exactly,” he said, “So why are you any different?”
I still remember this conversation with my father about some mistake I had made in the past. I was probably having a pity party and burying myself in “woe is me” and he had probably heard enough but, still, his insightful remark was helpful.
Why do we treat ourselves differently than we would others that we care for?
For me, the biggest reason is that, often, I don’t see myself as I do others and that’s where the problem lies.
I deserve the same compassion that I so easily and quickly offer to others during their less than perfect moments, yet, I’m so quick to listen to my inner critic and let him hit me with a barrage of accusations, judgments, and cruel remarks instead of practicing self-compassion to help me forgive myself, learn from my mistake(s), and move on.
Self-compassion is by no means something I’m close to mastering or even very good at but it is something that I’m diligently working on in my own life to help me understand and accept myself more because, as I have often written and said to others, “you’ll have enough people in this world try to beat you down, you need people to lift you up–yourself included.”
This blog post is birthed out of a desire to give you some tools to help you on your self-compassion journey. Practicing self-compassion will help you build resilience and recover quicker than any self-deprecating speech or unkind behavior ever will.
As Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion writes, “love is more powerful than fear.”
What is Self-Compassion?
Dr. Neff writes, “Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.”
People who are self-compassionate recognize that part of life is dealing with difficulty and situations that are outside of our control. They tend to exercise more patience and understanding during life’s difficult moments.
Conversely, people who fight against or deny the reality that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, they tend to experience greater amounts of stress, frustration, and self-criticism. According to Dr. Neff, when this reality is “accepted with sympathy and kindness, great emotional equanimity is experienced.” In other words, you experience a greater ability to handle a difficult situation with calmness and composure.
Different exercises are available to practice self-compassion. I’ve included some that I use and a link to Dr. Neff’s site (at the end of the post) for further research.
Exercises to Practice Self-Compassion
Write a Letter From Someone Who Loves You Unconditionally
This is not just any letter to yourself but a letter from someone who is completely caring and loves you unconditionally.
Since we know that all people love with conditions, I often choose to write my letter from the perspective of God or a father/grandfather type. I often talk about how proud I am of my progress and even challenge myself in areas that I need to improve in.
I really found this type of writing to be a bit strange, at first, but after some practice, I’ve grown to really enjoy it and feel encouraged when the Elder in me speaks.
It’s been really a powerful exercise and I encourage you to try it.
Dr. Neff recommends writing the letter from the perspective of an unconditionally loving friend but since most of my insecurity has originated from interactions with critical males, I choose to use a father/grandfather type or sometimes God.
What I Love About Myself Exercise
I wish I could say this was an original idea, but I adopted it from a book I’m currently reading called “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life” by Vishen Lakhiani.
Vishen writes that at the end of each day he asks his kids two questions:
What are you thankful for today and what did you love about yourself today?
Both questions have been very helpful, recently. I take some time to pause and write about how I would answer each. I have been typing them on my phone because I always have it and am left with no excuses for not doing the exercise.
Some examples of what you might have loved about yourself today could be:
- How you handled that rude comment from a coworker at the office
- You might love that you took the time and money to surprise someone with a coffee in the drive-thru at Starbucks
- Maybe you spent some extra time loving a pet or called a friend who was lonely
- Perhaps you finished an assignment after everything in you told you that you didn’t have the energy or drive to do it
- Maybe you just got out of bed when your depression was screaming to stay under the covers and “F### the day!” instead of “Seize the day!”
- You could have smiled at a stranger, held the door for someone, or bit your tongue when all you wanted to do was cuss someone out
Lakhiani recommends listing 3-5 things daily and the possibilities are endless.
The next exercise that I’ve been doing is meditation.
I’ve been using meditation focusing on the chakras. I don’t really understand meditation other than I know it creates mental space for me and helps me take some time to escape from the busyness of my mind and check in with my body. It helps me love myself even if it’s taking a moment to “step away” from my noisy mind and into my anxious heart. I feel at peace within myself.
The last self-compassion exercise I practice I call Mirror Time.
I take time, each day, to look myself in the eyes in a mirror and feel compassion for myself.
I remember when I was in jail and first saw myself in a mirror after 2 1/2 months, or so, of not having access to one. I was shocked and couldn’t even look at myself for a long time after. My shame overwhelmed me and brought me to tears.
Now, I take time to look deep into my eyes until I experience compassion and love for the man looking back at me. Many years ago, my grandmother told me, “You need to love that man in the mirror, Danny because I do and you should, too.”
I encourage each of you to do your own mirror work and look deeply into the eyes of the person who needs your love the most-you!
These are what have been working for me to help me love myself more but I know what works for me will not work for everyone.
I encourage you to visit Dr. Neff’s site and check out her suggestions on practicing self-compassion.
For More Information on Self-Compassion
Dr. Neff’s site includes many suggestions for different exercises that you can try to help increase your self-compassion.
If you’re anything like me and have been told that you’re your “own worst enemy” for more years than you care to admit, this will seem very odd, challenging, and even painful at first, but I can attest that working on loving yourself more will only help you and not harm you which is more than I can say for self-criticism and self-deprecation.
Here’s to learning to love yourself more deeply, fully, and honestly.
You are the only you that is in this world and no matter what another person has said to you, you matter and are worthy of love-including your own.
Be well and loved, my friends.
Photo by h.koppdelaney