What is Self-Compassion and Why is it Necessary?

Compassion can be loosely defined as empathy for one’s suffering with a desire to alleviate it. In essence, compassion is sharing in and validating the pain and hurt that all humans can, unfortunately, understand. Self-compassion, therefore, is this very same process turned inward. While we tend to be able to extend compassion to others, many struggle to extend it to themselves. In compassion’s place, we often find self-criticism, self-blame, judgment, and shame. Many share that they want to stop this cruel inner dialogue and be kinder to themselves, but don’t know how. Here are 6 ways to improve your relationship with yourself right now! 

1. Recognize the Inner Critic

If you can’t identify it, you can’t change it. When you begin paying attention to your self-deprecating thoughts, you might soon realize they play in a loop on repeat. Find a metaphor that resonates with you and use it when that critic is acting up. For ideas, check out this video. Name it to tame it! When it shows up, you can then implement any of the skills below.

2. Consider What you Would Tell a Friend

The quickest way to access self-compassion is to simply consider what you would tell a friend, family member or loved one you care about experiencing the same stressor. At times, it might be too challenging to extend the same messaging to yourself internally. If the words are too difficult to embody mentally, write them down and then verbally read them aloud to yourself.

3. Talk to a Trusted Love One

Researcher and Author Brene Brown states, “if you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and 

judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”. This messaging suggests that shame and self-criticism thrive in isolation (when our inner critics spiral) and therefore can’t survive in authentic, open, and understanding connection. Find a trusted loved one and share with them how you are feeling. This can be vulnerable and scary. Be mindful of who you choose to share with. If it’s tough to find self-love, they may help you internalize some of their love and compassion for you.

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

Brene Brown

4. Recognize your humanity

Remember, compassion’s definition includes the ability to empathize. In order to be able to empathize, one must be able to put oneself in another person’s shoes. This is different from sympathizing, which is pitying a situation we haven’t experienced. Therefore, in order to empathize, the semantics suggest that everyone has been there (or at least somewhere similar). While humans are very complex we actually have mostly a variety of the 5 same shared emotions. We experience many of the same experiences. That inner critic? You’re not alone! Everyone has one. Yours might be more cruel about certain things than others. Instead of thinking about how different you are, try operating from the belief that all humans have strengths and weaknesses. All humans make mistakes. All humans have the right to learn and grow. 

5. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Speaking of growth, educate yourself in a “Growth Mindset Approach”. This approach is the opposite of a “Fixed Mindset” which has the belief that intelligence and characteristics are stagnant, innate and unchangeable. Perceiving the world with stagnancy results in fear of challenges, belief that mistakes are failure, and can very quickly result in shaming thoughts of “I’m not good enough”. A “Growth Mindset” believes that intelligence and characteristics are flexible. This mindset suggests our brains can constantly expand and evolve, leading to embracing challenges and learning from mistakes. If you’re questioning if a “Growth Mindset” is possible, you never would have learned to walk and certainly would have never learned to read this blog! The good news is, contrary to what once was believed, neuroplasticity doesn’t only exist in our younger years. It can take place any time throughout our lives. 

6. Connect with your Inner Child

Ask yourself if the painful feeling you are experiencing feels familiar? Explore if there is a memory from childhood where the painful feeling, or way in which you’re speaking to yourself about the painful feeling, originated. This wound could have been with family, school, friends, athletics or any other experience from your past. Then try to step into “young you’s” world. Try to understand what you were thinking, feeling and needing in that moment. Were there harmful messages? Knowing what you know now, are there kinder, more compassionate messages you can provide your “younger self?” Tell yourself those messages now

Inner Child Healing work can be powerful in repairing your relationship with yourself. Don’t hesitate to connect with a therapist to embark on your inner child healing journey.

Of course, these skills take practice, but you can start practicing them right now. The more you build your practice with self-compassion the easier it will become. With time, you may even replace that automatic inner critic with a kinder, more compassionate voice, resulting in lower stress levels, less perfectionistic tendencies, certainly less shame, and likely even healthier relationships with others. Your relationship with you is the most long-standing relationship you will ever have in your life. It touches everything that you touch. So hop to it, self-compassion is waiting for you to access it!

Article written by Jessie Dattalo, LCSW

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