How to Develop Self-Compassion

This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” – Kristin Neff

We hear a lot today about self-compassion. But how do we show compassion to ourselves? What does this look like in our everyday lives?

1. First, acknowledge to yourself that you’re having a hard time. This is the starting place of self-compassion. You don’t have to pretend, and to push your feelings down. This is the time to be on your own side, and to listen to your heart, with empathy and understanding. ‘It feel what you feel’ … and that’s absolutely fine!

2. Don’t beat yourself up for struggling. It’s Ok to struggle and to find it hard to cope. What you’re feeling is normal. You are human – that is all. Understand that you have limits, and sometimes it’s all too much.

3. Let go of any tendencies towards perfectionism. You simply can’t be perfect; don’t expect that of yourself.  Allow yourself to fail, and to not have all the answers. Change and growth will be slow. It’s a process and a journey … And that journey is a zigzag; it isn’t a straight line.  

4. Ask for support from those who truly care. We need other people – but make sure that they’re safe people. Not everyone is caring; people have their own agenda. So reach out for support – but be wise, and use discernment.  

5. Make sure you enforce healthy boundaries with others. Decide what you can’t cope with, and what you won’t allow. This is a mark of self-respect and appropriate self-love. Then, you need to have the courage to enforce these boundaries. This be crucial for survival, and for ‘not falling apart’.  

6. Drop some commitments, and give yourself more space. There are times when we are weary and we don’t have the resources to say “yes” to other people: we simply must pull back. And you owe it to yourself to put your own needs first.

7. Take time to relax, and to do things you enjoy. This will help renew your strength, and will build you up again. Also, you deserve to ‘take it easy’, and to make time for yourself. Perhaps it’s been too long since you gave yourself a break, and allowed yourself some fun, and some needed pampering.

So, do this for yourself. It is absolutely crucial.

Not Knowing

Sometimes we don’t know the way we should go.

We don’t know if we should take the fork to the right, or to the left.  

We don’t know what will happen if we go to the right, or to the left.

That is the nature of life.

You take one faltering step. Then another faltering step.

Sometimes you sit down. And rest. Or wait.

Sometimes direction comes, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could always feel confident that the decision we were making was the right one?

That the direction we were going was the best one for us?

That whatever we did next would have the most successful outcome?

That we could confidently grasp the pen, and write out a great next chapter. With a great outcome. And a heroic ending.

If only that were possible.

If only it were that easy.

But it isn’t that easy.

Often we don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to turn, or which road to take.

So, perhaps, it’s not surprising that we often feel anxious.

But, really, you don’t need to have it all figured out.

You don’t need to know the end from the beginning.

All you need to do is to trust yourself.

To be patient. To take the pressure off yourself.

And to be willing to risk it.

And to take the next small step.

The Most Important Thing is How You Treat Yourself

the one thing you can change

Self-compassion is the extension of kindness, care, warmth, and understanding towards ourselves when we’re in despair, or we’re struggling with life.

Often, this is difficult and challenging for us. It feels counter-cultural – and, sometimes, even wrong – and especially for those who have learned to “be strong”, and to always put the needs of other people first.

However, there are various exercises that can help us practice this – so that showing self-compassion feels more natural and right. We’ve included a couple of these exercise here. (These are based on the work of Kristin Neff, the founder of self-compassion therapy).

Exercise 1: How Would You Respond to a Friend?

  1. Think of a time when a close and valued friend was struggling with something that was difficult for them. If you were able to be with them, and could offer them support, how would you have wanted to respond to your friend? Think of both your verbal and non-verbal messages. What sorts of things might you have said to that person? What would your tone of voice have been like? How would you have wanted them to feel about themselves after opening up and sharing their deepest self with you?
  2. Think of those occasions when you’re struggling in life. How do you talk to yourself at those times? Note your words, your tone of voice, your attitudes and body language. In general, are you cruel, harsh and demanding or encouraging and kind?
  3. Compare and contrast your responses to these questions. To what extent do you treat yourself in the same way, or differently from how you’d treat a treasured, precious friend? Brainstorm and list some possible reasons for this.
  4. Is there anyone in your life who, in the past, treated you the way you treat yourself now? Are there any fears coming into play? What are your core beliefs about yourself, and other people?
  5. How might you feel differently, and how might you change, if you treated yourself the way you treated a good friend?

Exercise 2: Making Time for Self-Compassion

  1. Choose an area of life that is a source of stress for you. As you review the problem and its impact on your life, try to get in touch with all your different feelings and emotions. Where and how do you experience stress in your body? What sorts of thoughts run through your mind?
  2. Now it is time to practise mindfulness. Begin by reminding yourself that this is something that is genuinely difficult for you. You feel weakened and you hurt; you feel helpless and weighed down.
  3. Next, it is important to remind yourself that you are not alone – despite how cut off and disconnected you might feel. That is, suffering is common, and it happens to us all.
  4. Next, take your right hand and gently place it over your heart. Now slowly and tenderly massage that area around your heart. Allow yourself to feel soothed and comforted by this.
  5. As you engage in this activity, try to speak the words you need to hear right now – words of comfort and compassion, of gentleness and love. Some example might include:
  • May I be gentle and tender with myself.
  • May I be kind and compassionate towards myself.
  • May I accept myself completely.
  • May I believe in myself.
  • May I be patient with myself
  • May I forgive myself.
  1. Relax and rest like this for as long as you need.