How To Cultivate Self-Compassion: 4 Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Practice Self-Compassion
“If you don't love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.”
― Dalai Lama
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to cultivate self-compassion.
Our minds have evolved to protect us from danger, and while this can help us when deciding whether or not it’s safe to cross the street, our minds can also react to difficult thoughts and feelings in unhelpful ways.
For our ancestors of the stone age, fitting in was a prerequisite for survival. Standing out or failing to be accepted by the group meant someone was more vulnerable to outside dangers, from the environment to predators.
Because of the evolutionary necessity of social acceptance, our evolved mind constantly compares our own accomplishments to those of others and evaluates our own contributions to guarantee that our peers will accept us. This in turn leads us to believe that our achievements are a measure of our worth. It’s often helpful to remember that our mind is not trying to cause us suffering, rather quite the opposite; it’s trying to keep us safe and avoid pain. Evolution didn’t anticipate social media.
Cultivating more self-compassion is important when considering what we perceive to be our personal inadequacies or when struggling with any type of emotional pain.
Have you ever noticed that when a friend or loved one is struggling and reaches out for consolation, that you respond with gentleness, support, and comfort? But, when you’re going through something similar yourself, you may respond far less gently and often, in a way you would never treat someone you cared about. Self-compassion involves acknowledging your inner critic and responding kindly to yourself in the same way that you would speak with a loved one in similar pain.
It is important to note that everyone has a critical voice, and that voice is difficult to shut off at will. But part of being human is having flaws and making mistakes. When you struggle with self-acceptance, it might be helpful to view it as a reflection of what is important to you.
For example, the person who judges their accomplishments, might view this as caring about making a difference in the world. The person who judges their actions in social situations might view this as caring about relationships with others. It might help to recognize that your struggle with self-acceptance emanates from your values. If you focus less on what you want to achieve and more on how you want to behave on an ongoing basis, you’ll notice a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Mindfulness is an important aspect of practicing self-compassion.
Through mindfulness, we can learn to acknowledge and allow our pain to bear without getting caught up in it. As you begin to label your thoughts as thoughts and feelings as feelings, without assigning undue meaning to them, you will begin to notice less of an internal struggle as well as an increased ability to experience the present moment.
Dr. Elyse Kupperman Chaifetz – www.drelysekupperman.com
Compassion is generally considered an enviable quality.
It incorporates kindness, understanding and empathy, along with the desire to help someone who is suffering.
But what about self-compassion?
Self-compassion integrates mindfulness, wisdom, and empathy toward ourselves as flawed beings. And we are all flawed! A common trap when something doesn’t go our way is to blame ourselves or someone else. We may forget in the moment that to be human means there will be hardship. That is where self compassion comes in.
Self compassion is the healthy alternative to self-flagellation, i.e to the belief that we should be able to rise above events, people, or anything for that matter, that cause us suffering.
People who are suspicious of self- compassion may think it is self indulgent, selfish, and an invitation to a grand ol’ pity party for oneself. The reality is that self compassion is none of those things. In fact, self compassion is associated with resiliency, motivation, and overall well-being.
Practicing self-compassion incorporates three steps:
1. Mindfulness, as in recognition of one’s own suffering.
2. Acknowledgement of the universality of shared experiences as human beings
3. A mantra to repeat to yourself, similar to a comment you would make to a dear friend.
The person who literally wrote the book (aptly titled Self-compassion) on self-compassion is Dr Kristen Neff. Her TedTalk and website are chock full of information, including an elaboration of the aforementioned three step self-compassion practice.
My summary incorporates a lot of her work.
Myth #1: Self compassion is a disguised way to justify feeling sorry for yourself.
Perhaps ironic, but true: Self-compassion improves mental health. It provides an acceptance and acknowledgement of our struggles while also feeling empathy toward our difficulties. Acknowledging our feelings facilitates processing them. Neff’s and her colleagues’ research consistently confirms this finding.
Myth #2: Self-esteem, not self-compassion, is what really matters.
In the United States, high self-esteem is a highly sought after pursuit because it ‘proves’ we are above average. By definition, everyone can not be above average at the same time or all the time. There will always be someone who is (fill in the blank) er than we are. On certain dimensions, all of us would feel like a failure if we were to compare ourselves to people who excel in those particular domains.
Insistence to be better than average in order to maintain high self esteem can lead to all sorts of undesirable outcomes, including bullying and “isms” such as racism and sexism.
While self esteem and self-compassion are associated with well being, the former is a judgment or evaluation of worth. Self-compassion is a way of relating to who we are with kindness, especially when we feel inadequate.
In essence, self-esteem requires (perceived) superiority to others, whereas self-compassion requires acknowledging that we share the human experience of imperfection.
Self-esteem is tentative, coinciding with our most recent success or failure. Self-compassion is a more reliable source of support because we are able to be kind to ourselves due to the fact we are hurting.
Myth #3: Self-compassion is selfish
Most people find that when they’re absorbed in self-judgment, they actually don’t have much energy to think about anything other than their own sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. When we show ourselves kindness, however, we are in a better position to focus on others.
Being kind to yourself helps you be kind and loving to others. The adage “You can’t give from an empty cup” is a reminder.
Myth #4: Self-compassion is weakness
Newsflash: Dr Neff and her associates have found that self-compassion actually enhances resiliency and coping.
Myth #5: Self-compassion will cause me to lose my edge.
The notion that self compassion will cause complacency is completely unfounded.
Consider a situation in which a child does poorly on a test in school. If the teacher disgustedly reprimands the child (e.g. “You idiot! How can you be so stupid?”), shame and low motivation likely result. What if the teacher instead said something caring and understanding (e.g.”Oh sweetie, I am so sorry. I know you studied hard. What can I do to support you? Let’s figure this out together.”)? Certainly the child is more likely to feel motivated, emotionally supported, and confident.
Self-flagellation is an ineffective motivator.
Self-compassion helps us to bounce back, and to do so more quickly and less scathed. Encouragement and support help when self-channelled in our own direction.
Psychologists have known for a long time that being kind to ourselves isn’t selfish, weak, or narcissistic, and that it is a quality that makes us happier.
We now have solid science to support the benefits of self-compassion.
Dr. Elayne Daniels – www.drelaynedaniels.com
Mindfulness and self-compassion have increasingly received attention through mainstream media recently. The concepts are sometimes taught in schools, they are frequently mentioned in self-help articles and people from all walks of life are openly talking about the benefits. Why? Because once you begin to fully engage in them, it changes everything.
Self-compassion and mindfulness are inextricably linked.
If you were to look up the meaning for self-compassion, you would find that compassion means “to suffer with.” Mindfulness involves non-judgmental observation, and therefore awareness of what is happening within.
When you engage in mindfulness and self-compassion, you are accepting the moment as it is, without criticism.
You get comfortable with being uncomfortable and realize that we are all interconnected- we all experience suffering, inadequacy and imperfection.
For me, a daily meditation practice preceded my engagement with the practice of self-compassion. It is different for everyone, but I will say that having a solid mindfulness practice helped me recognize the incredibly unkind things I was saying to myself, about myself. It also allowed me to practice forgiveness and begin to change.
Regardless of where you are in your practice, try the following exercises to cultivate self-compassion:
Start to bring awareness to your thoughts.
Change cannot occur without being aware of what needs to be changed. This can be done in a number of ways. When you look at yourself in the mirror, what are you saying to yourself? Similarly, when you are frustrated or struggling to complete something, how do you speak to yourself? What about when you do something well? You can either begin to mentally or physically take note of these statements. Do you see a pattern?
The human brain is constantly trying to make sense of what is happening around us.
We look for things in our environment to confirm our thoughts and biases, including those negative thoughts about ourselves.
What negative thoughts do you have about yourself? What were you told as a child that you still carry with you today? Write them down. Write down how they have impacted you and continue to impact you.
How do these thoughts play into your beliefs and behavior? How do they affect your life and how you feel about yourself?
What new thoughts can replace the old ones? You move from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset. When you change your thoughts, your feelings and behavior will follow.
Personify the negative thoughts about yourself.
Once you begin to recognize your critical voice, give it a name. By doing this, you separate the negative talk from yourself and it becomes easier to recognize. You are not your thoughts. Once your “person” (or monster) starts talking, talk back and challenge them.
If you are being unkind to yourself, think about the situation as if it were occurring to a young child, or someone you love unconditionally.
How would you talk them through the situation? Would you repeatedly tell them that they are a failure, or that everything is their fault? In general, would you deprive a child of sleep? Would you continually force them to work, without breaks or play? Why would you treat yourself any differently? You are deserving of the same love, compassion and care.
Believe what others tell you- when your friends, family, colleagues or even complete strangers compliment you, tell you about your strengths, or thank you for your kindness- believe them.
Is it difficult for you to tell a loved one how brilliant they are? No, it is effortless because you mean it. So why are you unworthy of the compliments you receive?
Write a thank you letter to yourself.
Truly give yourself thanks for all that you do, for yourself, for others, and for the planet. Thank your body for the movement it engages in each day. If this exercise is difficult for you, try writing a letter from an imaginary friend’s perspective- a friend who is kind, loving, compassionate, generous and non-judgmental. What would that person say to you? How would they forgive you for your missteps?
Say, “I love you” to your body.
I am sad to admit it, but I only recently did this for the first time- and I am in my mid-thirties. Why did it take me so long? Try saying, “I love you” to your body on a consistent basis and see how it changes the most important relationship you will ever have- the one with yourself.
Self-reflection is the most difficult work we can do, but it is the most worthy and purposeful.
We cannot serve others if we do not first serve ourselves. Having self-compassion or practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean we get to walk through life not caring about anything and continually forgiving ourselves for being indifferent or cruel. It is quite the opposite. It is showing kindness to ourselves, which then allows us to show kindness to the world. It lifts us all.
In the words of Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, “If you want to do your best for future generations of humanity, for your friends and family, you must begin by taking good care of yourself.”
Kristen Sudnik, Ed.S. – www.risethroughlearning.com
I’m SO fat!
When I was a teenager, I remember a group of my friends competing over their body flaws. “I hate my thighs.” “I want your virgin stomach.” “My breasts are too small.” Even at that age, it seemed misguided to me that a bunch of thin, pretty women spent so much time putting down their bodies.
One friend (the object of the, “Virgin stomach” compliment) found companionship in other women hating their bodies. But for me, that missed the point. Why were these women so unhappy with their appearances?
One of the most common ways women give themselves a hard time is by not being happy with their size. No wonder, in a society that is filled with unrealistic depictions of women in magazines, on television, and in the movies. It has been estimated that the average woman in the United States is 5’3” tall and weighs 168.5 pounds https://www.racked.com/2018/6/5/17380662/size-numbers-average-woman-plus-market while your average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. https://beautyredefined.org/weight-size-media-lies/
Women may think that criticizing their bodies will help them get to a more desirable size. Usually, just the opposite occurs. Lack of body acceptance can lead to extreme dieting, which almost always rebounds into weight gain. Most women believe that if they just had enough will power, they would be able to lose their excess weight and keep it off. Little do they know that an estimated 95% of diets fail, and most women gain back the weight they lost plus 20%.
How can you learn to love your body?
Identify your negative thoughts.
Take some time to notice and write down the criticisms you have about your body. The more specific you can be about what you think, the more effectively you can counter these statements. What would you say to a friend who had this view of herself? How might you defuse these negative thoughts with positive statements?
Evaluate your size goals.
Professionals in the fashion industry may spend most of their time and energy on their looks, but is that what’s important to you? Rather than setting goals about what you’d like to weigh or what measurements you’d like to achieve, set realistic goals around a particular change in your behavior. How would your life improve if you drank more water every day or ate three vegetables with every meal?
Setting yourself one or two small goals that you can maintain for years promotes more long-term change than creating impossible goals you can only keep up for a few weeks.
Find parts of your body you can appreciate and love.
Perhaps you like your eyes, your hair, or your feet. Spend some time looking at them in the mirror, appreciating and enjoying each in turn. Surround yourself with colors that bring out your skin tone. Think of someone you love and remember how you see them. Then try looking at yourself in the same way.
Nurture your body.
Take time during the week to take a relaxing bath, apply lotion, or otherwise pamper yourself. Allow as long as you need to savor this activity. Can you fit in a pedicure, a facial, or a massage? Acting in loving ways towards your body can help inspire positive thoughts about yourself.
Bodies feel good to touch. Try stroking your arm or your face. Notice how good it feels, both as the person touching and the one being touched. Give yourself a foot rub. Again, as you act more lovingly towards your body, you may find that you feel more loving towards it.
View your body as a work of art.
Go to the art museum and notice how bodies have been portrayed through the ages. Our current fetish with thin can be seen for the brief blip in time it represents. Notice how artists lovingly portray women of larger sizes. See that curves and wrinkles can be beautiful. All bodies give us pleasure. By dividing bodies into good and bad, we reduce the natural enjoyment all bodies bring us.
You are more than your body.
Think about the kind things you do for others in your life (no fair telling yourself it’s not enough.) Look at what you’re good at, how smart you are, what you stand for, what you’ve accomplished. Notice how perceptive you are. Remember, you are a woman with many facets, and there is more of you to love than just your appearance.
Tory Butterworth, PhD, LPC – www.torybutterworth.com