Many of us find it hard to be kind to ourselves. Namely, we think we don’t deserve kindness because we’ve yet to earn it. And we’re convinced we have to earn it, as though our relationship with ourselves is transactional.
After all, you haven’t met an important goal, you don’t have enough money in your bank account, you still haven’t been promoted, you keep making mistakes, you’re too emotional and sensitive, your inner critic is constantly screaming, no matter what you do (or don’t do).
So you abandon the idea of self-compassion. It’s just not for me, you think.
Or you simply don’t know how or where to start. You’ve heard about the many benefits of practicing self-compassion, but what does it really look like for you?
Thankfully, self-compassion isn’t complicated, and you can ease in, no matter how you feel about yourself at the moment.
According to New Jersey clinical psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D, self-compassion starts with having compassionate self-awareness: “The more fully you understand and can really ‘get’ what’s going on for you in any particular situation, the more likely you will be able to have empathy and compassion for yourself.”
To cultivate compassionate self-awareness, Becker-Phelps, author of the book Bouncing Back from Rejection: Build the Resilience You Need to Get Back Up When Life Knocks You Down, shared these suggestions:
- Explore how you’re feeling. Throughout the day, simply ask yourself “How am I feeling?” Name the emotion that arises (“I’m really sad.”) Sit with it. Try not to judge the emotion; just observe it. Observe the intensity of the emotion. Observe your physical sensations. “By connecting with your emotions, you may find that you have empathy for them,” Becker-Phelps said. And if you don’t, she said, try the below suggestions.
- Reflect on how you’d relate to a friend in the same situation. “Then apply that response to yourself. In this way, you are being your own compassionate and best friend,” Becker-Phelps said. For instance, she said, you might tell yourself these self-compassionate statements: “Of course I am struggling. Anyone in my situation would have a hard time”; “It’s OK to feel sad because it’s a sad situation”; “I’m suffering like anyone else would in this situation. It’s only human to feel this way.”
- Reflect on how a supportive friend would respond to you. What would a close, kind friend say to you when you’re struggling? “[A]llow yourself to take in their caring response. Use them as a role model for how to respond to yourself.”
- Actually reach out for support. Directly ask a friend for help and support with whatever you’re going through—whether you’re having a bad day or you’re dealing with a painful situation. (You can also work on becoming more self-compassionate with a therapist.)
According to Becker-Phelps, being self-compassionate simply means “responding to your pain with caring and compassion.” And in order to respond to our pain in supportive ways, she said, we must first acknowledge that pain.
So, if self-compassion really feels uncomfortable and inaccessible, the first (and second and third) step for now might be to simply bring awareness to your experience. Notice how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking throughout the day. Notice what’s happening inside your body, the physical sensations that greet you as you open your eyes, and the sensations that swirl as you fall asleep.
And when you’re ready, follow that up with: I see you. I’m sorry you’re struggling. I’m here.