Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with greater kindness and understanding.
Words by our Clinical Psychologist Dr Anna Suraev
Research supports that practicing greater self-compassion has been linked with lower mental health symptoms and greater resilience (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012).
Nurturing a supportive and gentle relationship with yourself can be particularly helpful in combating the harsh and self-critical thoughts that our minds can often come up with.
Sometimes these thoughts can be so automatic that we are not even fully aware of them. Our minds can bully us particularly when we have made a mistake (“I’m so stupid!”), feel pain (“Why am I so anxious”, “What’s wrong with me?”), or feel disappointment (“I’m not good enough”).
Self-compassion can be a helpful tool in responding to ourselves with greater kindness instead of being punitive.
Doing this may sound relatively easy, yet for many people this can be incredibly difficult. In fact, many of the clients I have worked with have said that practicing self-compassion can feel very uncomfortable and challenging for them at first.
Some people worry that being more self-compassionate is akin to creating self-pity, being self-indulgent, or making excuses for “bad behaviour”.
But the opposite seems to occur! I have observed in my clinical experience, that when people start to treat themselves with greater kindness and understanding, it can help them let go of harsh self-critical thoughts, regulate their emotions better, increase self-acceptance, and make positive progress towards their goals.
Here are some steps to start treating yourself with greater compassion and kindness:
- Become aware of your inner critic – How do you speak to yourself when you make a mistake or something does not go well for you?
- Acknowledge the pain non-judgementally – e.g. “This hurts”, “I’m noticing feelings of shame”, “I feel disappointment”
- Make room for these feelings rather than trying to push them away (e.g. breathe into them)
- Unhook from the self-critical thoughts – “This is my mind beating me up”
- Act with kindness- Take a kind, rather than punitive action, towards yourself:
- Self-talk – talk to yourself kindly (e.g. “We are all imperfect humans, we all make mistakes”). Try thinking of how you would talk to a friend in the same situation as you
- Self-touch – lay a hand gently and kindly on top of the pain or on a soothing area such as your chest, abdomen, or forehead, or give yourself a gentle hug (find what works for you!)
- Self-soothe – find an activity you find soothing (e.g. listening to music, yoga, meditation, lighting candles, going for a walk in nature, or reading.)
- Connectedness with others – remind yourself that feeling pain/hurt/disappointment is something you have in common with all humans and that you are not alone. We are all fallible beings that make mistakes or experience difficulties!
- Practice – these steps may feel unnatural or even uncomfortable at first. But overtime, self-compassion will become an easier and more automatic response
If you would like to learn more about ways to manage your inner critic, you may wish to meet with one of our Clinical Psychologists to help you nurture a kinder and more compassionate relationship with yourself.