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What Self-Compassion Really Looks Like

We tend to think of self-compassion as being self-indulgent, as coddling ourselves and shirking responsibility. We think it means letting pleasure exclusively dictate our decisions and our days.

And we see self-compassion as useless, even harmful. We think that if we put down the whip, we’ll be whittled down to some lazy, slothful, unsuccessful weakling, to someone we definitely don’t want to be.

But self-compassion is none of these things. And we don’t need the whip. We can set it down. We can toss it in the trash. And let it go. Permanently.

I like the definition of self-compassion that psychologist Mary Welford gives in her book The Power of Self-Compassion:Using Compassion-Focused Therapy To End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence: a sensitivity to our own psychological and physical pain, along with the motivation and genuine commitment to relieve it. “Self-compassion is about recognizing when we are struggling and about making a commitment to do what we can to improve things for ourselves step-by-step,” Welford writes.

I also like therapist Ali Miller’s definition: “self-compassion is fundamentally about caring about yourself. It’s about treating yourself like you would your best friend: with kindness, attention, love, and responsiveness. It’s saying to yourself, ‘I’m here for you. I care about you and I want to support you.’”

In this piece, therapist Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, described self-compassion as a “good-enough parent”: a parent who’s kind and gives their kids boundaries. I really like that, too.

Self-compassion is about listening and supporting and encouraging ourselves and taking action.

Self-compassion can look like:

  • sitting with your sadness and journaling about it.
  • exploring your relationship with alcohol, and seeing whether you’re using it to self-medicate, to cope with the heartache, the boredom, the sorrow, the nervousness, the quiet rage.
  • sleeping in because you need extra rest, or waking up earlier to take a refreshing walk.
  • examining your relationships to see which ones truly have a positive effect on your life, and which ones don’t.
  • hanging out less with people who may be toxic.
  • being curious about your emotions, instead of judging yourself and wondering why you’re so sensitive and why you can’t just get it together.
  • taking a deep breath when you’re overwhelmed and dividing what you need to do into teeny, tiny steps that you can easily manage and start.
  • asking for help.
  • giving yourself permission to grieve a significant loss—whatever that loss—for as long as you need.
  • reading or journaling before bed instead of being on your phone (and forgiving yourself when you can’t stop scrolling).
  • participating in physical activities that you like, that provide you with what you need. Maybe that’s calm and relaxation. Maybe it’s empowerment. Maybe it’s energy and inspiration. Maybe it’s all these things.
  • making an appointment with a Health At Every Size clinician or dietitian because you don’t want to feel guilty about food anymore, because you don’t want to fear eating.
  • using kind, gentle words to talk to yourself, especially when you think you don’t deserve it.
  • not using the scale to determine your worth, your mood, the relationships you pursue, or the quality of your day.
  • figuring out what’s making you so anxious and facing it (possibly with the help of a therapist who specializes in anxiety).
  • forgiving yourself when you make a mistake or bad decision, sincerely apologizing and focusing on the lessons learned.
  • learning about how to stop numbing your emotions.
  • reminding yourself that you’re not alone in your struggles.

How can you practice self-compassion right now? How can you practice self-compassion this week? How can you be sensitive to something you’re struggling with, and how you can you nurture and support yourself through it? How can you be a good-enough parent to yourself?

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

What Self-Compassion Really Looks Like

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). What Self-Compassion Really Looks Like. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Aug 2018
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