What Is Self-Compassion? + How to Practice It

by | Jan 15, 2021 | Wellbeing

Learn all about self-compassion and how to practice it in your own life for supporting confidence and easing stress.

When you think of having self-compassion, what comes to your mind?

The idea of having “compassion for yourself” can come across as a bit fluffy. I only learned about it in recent months, but I would not be dedicating an entire blog post to it if it wasn’t something I deeply valued or believed was important to educate others about. I now intentionally practice it in my life (I’ll share more about when + how to do it) and it has had a massively positive impact on my wellbeing.

Practicing self-compassion in my own life has had a tremendous impact in my confidence and ability to cope with negative emotions or stressful situations. It’s a tool that has lifted me up and out of a downward spiral of self-doubt and helped me connect to something greater than myself when I need it most: common humanity.

So let’s explore what self-compassion is and how you can start to practice it in your own life.

What is Self-Compassion?

Let me start with an excerpt directly from the leader in self-compassion, Dr. Kristen Neff, from self-compassion.org:

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others.

To begin understanding what self-compassion is, it’s helpful to simply think about what compassion feels like. To have compassion for others, you:

• Notice that they are suffering
• You feel moved by their suffering so you can share their pain (compassion means to “suffer with”) which leads you to feel a sense of warmth and caring
• You offer kindness and understanding rather than harsh judgement for others’ situation or shortcomings
• You recognize that suffering, failure, and imperfection are all part of the shared human experience (you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “I’m only human!”)

Having self-compassion involves acting that very same way toward yourself when you are in the midst of pain, suffering, failure, or struggling with something that you dislike about yourself. It means accepting and honouring your humanness and understanding that perfection does not exist. The shared human experience will always involve challenges, obstacles, mistakes, hardships and bumps in the road. Self-compassion guides you to open yourself up more fully to this reality rather than fight it.

The 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgement

Self-compassion is the embodiment of kindness and understanding toward oneself in the face of failures, mistakes, and other difficult situations. When you have self-compassion you do not judge yourself harshly for your shortcomings, but accept that things don’t always go your way or live up to your expectations. When we fight the reality that life is full of challenges, we set ourselves up for greater suffering, feelings of stress, and self-criticism. Self-compassion combats this.

2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation

When we are critical of ourselves, we often isolate our experiences and feel them as if we are the only one suffering or making a mistake. We may feel alone in our challenges or imperfections or believe that nobody else feels the way we do. But self-compassion helps us recognize that everybody suffers and we are not alone in our difficult experiences.

3. Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

Mindfulness involves having a willingness to observe our negative emotions with openness and mindful awareness, a non-judgemental state that observes thoughts and feelings without trying to deny or suppress them. In this way we prevent ourselves from “over-identifying” with our thoughts and feelings so as not to tie our identity to them or get caught up in negativity.

Self-Compassion vs. Self-Esteem

My favourite aspect of self-compassion is that it is a far better approach to improving self-confidence then striving for better self-esteem is. Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves and while low self-esteem can undoubtedly lead to depression and other negative states, high self-esteem also has downfalls.

With self-esteem, it is not enough to be average. Instead, we must feel above average to feel good about ourselves. This can result in narcissism, putting others down, or getting angry toward those who knock our sense of self-worth in order to feel better about ourselves. In the pursuit of high self-esteem, we may distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we don’t have to face them. But what I believe to be the most important thing to note here is that self-esteem fluctuates based on our changing circumstances because it tends to be contingent on our latest success or failure.

With self-compassion, however, we gently enhance our self-confidence and sense of self-worth by accepting all parts of ourselves–the highs and lows–without get too down on ourselves when things go awry.

One of my mottos is that my self-worth is steadfast. It truly is, my friends, and practicing self-compassion is a fabulous way for us to fully acknowledge that truth.

My Favourite Way to Practice Self-Compassion

There are several ways that we can practice self-compassion or soften our inner critics of which you can read more here. But I want to shed some light on my most favourite way to practice self-compassion that I often include in my morning intention practice, and especially anytime I feel stressed, upset, or critical of myself. You can use this technique anytime you feel you need it.

1. Place your hand on your chest, or on another part of your body, to mimic a gentle, caring touch

2. Bring your awareness to a stressful situation and try to let the feelings come up and exist for a moment. Let yourself feel the stress, pain, hurt, anger, or sadness.

3. Next, you want to use any phrase that identifies the pain such as:

  • this is a moment of suffering
  • this hurts
  • this does not feel good
  • this is pain
  • this is what stress feels like

4. Then connect your pain to common humanity by repeating a phrase that resonates with you, such as:

  • Suffering is a normal part of life
  • Other people feel this way
  • It’s normal for people to feel this way in this kind of situation
  • I am not alone in feeling this way
  • Everybody struggles in life

5. Lastly, ask what it is that you need to hear to experience kindness toward yourself. Or use one of the below comforting phrases:

  • May I be kind to myself
  • May I treat myself with compassion in this moment
  • May I be patient
  • May I learn to accept myself as I am
  • May I be strong and courageous
  • May I forgive myself

I hope this helps you practice more self-compassion in your own life. Let me know in the comments if you practice it yourself!

by Meghan Livingstone

Note: this post may contain affiliate links. Learn more here.

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Hi, I’m Meghan. I’m a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, blogger, and YouTuber with a passion for healthy, simple living. I’m here to inspire you to listen to your body, eat mindfully and wholesomely, and create a fulfilling life that’s completely unique to you.