Self-compassion for self-love
Learning to self-love and understand yourself can be the quest of a lifetime, as it is for many. Self-compassion is an ideal ally for such a quest. But what is self-compassion exactly? According to Dr. Kristin Neff, it’s being understanding, open and kind in the face of your own failures, mistakes and personal troubles. It’s the idea that imperfection and suffering are part of the human experience.
It involves accepting that you’ll make mistakes, keeping a gentle, kind inner voice and learning to cultivate compassion in situations that would otherwise leave you feeling dissatisfied. But how do you develop self-compassion, practically speaking? This article suggests a few avenues for thought, based on two fundamental elements: being kind to yourself, and looking inward.
Being kind to yourself
With your thoughts and feelings
Being kind to yourself starts with paying attention to your self-talk and your feelings. Start by identifying the emotions you feel every day, both positive and negative, and work toward accepting them without judgment. Keep in mind that you’re human and therefore vulnerable and imperfect. Being fully mindful of your negative emotions is one of the keys to self-compassion, because you can’t be compassionate toward your own suffering if you deny it.
Next, take a step back from your emotions and learn to see them from a more objective perspective. Emotions are the result of processing information through our filters and cognitive biases, which are tied to our beliefs. Learn to respond to your negative thoughts and feelings rationally with the Beck self-rating scale.
With your actions
How you manage your disappointments is also an important element of self-kindness. Learn to encourage and congratulate yourself, regardless of the outcome of your actions. For instance, instead of beating yourself up over a failure, like not landing a job you applied for, why not be proud that you tried? Why not congratulate yourself for stepping outside your comfort zone to give it a shot? Not only will it improve your self-compassion, reframing your thought process in a positive light will help you with letting go. Acknowledging that you can’t succeed all the time and being compassionate with yourself is a much more constructive and realistic response to disappointment than anger or bitterness.
With your experiences
Being kind to yourself also applies to the situations you experience. Here’s an exercise to try: think of a time when someone close to you went through something difficult. It could be a mistake they made at work or some form of rejection. Maybe they were fired or had their heart broken. Get a piece of paper and write down what you would have told them about their problem. Think about the tone you would have used. Then repeat the exercise, but for one of your own issues. Notice a difference in approach? Are you offering the same compassion to yourself as you extended to your loved one? The point of this exercise is to realize how much harder we tend to be on ourselves. One of the primary principles of self-compassion is treating yourself as you would treat others.
With who you are
The next step in your self-compassion practice is to learn that your worth doesn’t depend on your success or failure. The culture we live in puts a strong emphasis on action, progress and performance. But your worth can’t be measured by your successes or failures or your possessions, only by who you are. Learn to be proud of who you are.
Being kind to who you are also means taking care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally. How, then, do you practise self-compassion?
Through concrete actions:
- Make sure you get enough rest and sleep. Take the time to nap, make space for doing nothing in your day-to-day life, and keep a sleep schedule that fits your needs.
- Partake in comforting activities that make you happy, like admiring nature, taking baths, reading, playing music or watching movies you like.
- Adopt conscious eating.
- Practise self-massage.
- Move mindfully with outdoor walks.
- Do yoga (child’s pose is particularly relaxing).
Through what you expect of yourself:
- List the parts of your body that you like or that serve you well. For example, you may not like your legs, but you must admit that you can’t walk without them. Try to find at least 10 parts of your body that you like or that serve you well. Then, whenever you start to suffer from low self-esteem, look back on that list and focus on the positive.
- Make a compliment box. It might seem insignificant, but it’s been proven that words of encouragement can improve our self esteem. Here are some suggestions for words or phrases you can write: I am capable, I am brave, I am loved. Then, pick one out of the box whenever you need one!
Looking inward is an important element of self-compassion. Connecting to what truly makes you happy is a real challenge, because we live in a time when comparing your life to that of others is a daily reflex for many people. Here are five ways of looking inward in your day-to-day life.
Described by The New York Times as one of the most effective and most inexpensive acts of self-care, journaling is a fairly simple exercise that involves keeping a journal to express your thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, on a regular basis. Journaling is a good way to integrate gratitude by taking note of the high points of your day and the things in your life that make you happy. Reread your entries often to focus on what you have rather than what you lack. Studies have shown that keeping a journal can yield a number of benefits, by enhancing memory and communication skills, for example. The practice can also have a positive impact on self-confidence, sleep and the immune system.
Meditation is also a highly useful and calming way to practise self-compassion. It can help you reconnect with yourself, fosters inner peace and provides a space for relaxation. Here are three websites that offer free online guided meditations with themes related to self-compassion:
“In the stillness of formal practice, we do turn our energies inward, only to discover that we contain the entire world in our own mind and body.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Don’t worry about how other people see you
Sometimes, taking inspiration from others can drive positive change, but comparing yourself to others will usually cause you to put yourself down and create dissatisfaction with your own life. This phenomenon is compounded on social media, where virtual self-image is curated: it’s filtered, tweaked, mostly positive; it shows what people want to show and sometimes hides reality. It’s an unrealistic basis for comparison and fosters unattainable ideals of body image, among other things.
Think carefully about your online activity
Does your online activity foster your well-being? What if you did a bit of housecleaning here? Have a look at your news feeds and take note of the accounts that publish content that makes you feel anxious, bad about yourself, lonely, envious or depressed. Then ask yourself if you really want to follow accounts that trigger negative emotions, and if you wouldn’t be better off turning to accounts that make you feel inspired.
Indulge in art, for your well-being
Are you familiar with the benefits of art? Art can enhance self-esteem, give you an outlet for your emotions and reduce stress. Fully express your humanity and cut your creativity loose, or take a more contemplative approach to art and go to see an exhibit. Art can cause your brain to secrete dopamine.
We’ll close with the following question: What if you loved yourself the way you would want to be loved?
 Neff, Kristin. Definition of self-compassion. Online: https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/
 Ferry, Matthieu, “APPRENDRE LES TCC.” Online: https://tcc.apprendre-la-psychologie.fr/la-restructuration-cognitive.html
 Op.cit. Neff, Kristin.
 Op.cit. Neff, Kristin.
 Emmons, Robert, 2010. 10 ways to become more grateful. Greater Good Magazine: science-based insights for a meaningful life, University of California, Berkeley. Online: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/ten_ways_to_become_more_grateful1/
 Phelan, Hayley, 2018. What’s this about journaling?, The New York Times. Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/style/journaling-benefits.html
 Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 1994. Wherever You Go, There You Are. Hachette Books.
 Op.cit. Neff, Kristin.