We hear a lot about mindfulness, self-care, and positive thinking these days. But I’ve discovered there’s a piece of the wellness puzzle I often neglect, no matter how many veggies I eat, how many days I journal, or how many times I meditate per week. I’m talking about self-compassion.
I’ve been reading the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff and just learning more about the concept in general. It’s actually been a slow read for me because sometimes self-help gets a little overwhelming (even though, honestly, it usually feels that way when I need it the most). But this book has been so incredibly helpful to my own self-perception and how I cope with life.
Below I’m going to share the key points about self-compassion that have truly changed how I see myself and navigate difficult situations.
7 Powerful Takeaways About Self-Compassion
Neff defines self-compassion based on three main components:
- Self-kindness—being kind and understanding of ourselves
- Common humanity—recognizing our connected experience of life
- Mindfulness—maintaining awareness of our situations instead of avoiding them
Each of these is the basis of how self-compassion can be so powerful in the following ways.7 Life-Changing Ways to Practice Self-Compassion Click To Tweet
1. Acknowledge when things are hard for you.
By “hard,” this doesn’t mean waiting until things are hard based on what you think should be deserving of compassion. And it’s not about what’s “hard” by someone else’s standards.
It’s about honestly admitting when life is hard for you.
This has been a game-changing realization for me. As a highly sensitive person and someone with ADHD, there are things in life that affect me more deeply than those around me. I’ve spent so much time judging myself and trying to push away my feelings because I felt weak compared to other people.
But what I’ve learned from self-compassion is that the avoidance mindset is highly counterintuitive. Pushing away your feelings does not make them go away—it just impedes your ability to deal with them.
Our culture often teaches us to power through difficulties, to “man up” and “just deal with it.” The problem is that this doesn’t actually help us effectively deal with our struggles.
No matter what’s going on, if you’re having a hard time, self-compassion is about recognizing your own suffering. When you do that, you can hold the space and energy needed to help yourself.
2. Pause before going into damage control.
I think a lot of us are taught early on to not let our guard down when we make a mistake. There must always be a sense of discipline and lack of grace so we don’t screw up again. Anyone? Personally, I’ve spent my whole life feeling that.
But beating someone down doesn’t make them better; it just robs them of the ability to make mistakes and learn from them in a non-judgmental way. The same goes for ourselves.
When something stressful happens, we can learn to pause and acknowledge that the situation is hard for us rather than instantly going into damage control. When we emotionally care for ourselves, we can better confront the situation and deal with it.
3. Be an unconditionally loving and accepting friend to yourself.
As someone who constantly struggles with feeling good enough and comfortable in my own skin, self-compassion is a breath of fresh air. I’m sometimes a pro at self-care activities—meditation, taking breaks when I’m tired, positive intentions, etc—but there was still that underlying sense of rigidity and not-enoughness.
Is self-care really effective if we’re speaking unkindly towards ourselves through the whole process?
Self-compassion is about talking to yourself as if you were the most kind and understanding friend. If that friend could see all of what makes you you—everything you have been through, everything that happens in your mind, all of your good intentions in life—they would:
- Have compassion for what is difficult for you
- Communicate with kindness and understanding
- Provide compassionate advice for any areas that need improvement without beating you down
The good news is that we can all be that friend to ourselves—at any moment.
4. Recognize there are things about you that can’t be changed.
It’s easy to focus on what you want to improve about yourself. And while self-development and self-improvement can certainly be helpful in many ways, we can never be perfect.
Unfortunately, many of us are perfectionists, especially when it comes to ourselves. This sets us up for a losing battle if we constantly pursue “perfect.”
Life doesn’t work in black and white, though. There are many factors that contribute to who we are and how we behave:
- How we were raised
- The culture we were brought up in
- Past traumas and other life-changing experiences
- Mental health conditions
- What’s most important to us in life
Yes, we can work through certain issues and becoming the best versions of ourselves. But there are aspects of our personalities that are just us. And that’s crucial to accept.
For example, there is something about me that just doesn’t fit into the traditional 9-to-5 workday. I used to beat myself up about this and fight against it (and sometimes still do). But when I finally started acknowledging that freelancing fit my brain better and made me happier, I was able to find success in what worked for me.
In addition, I know that social situations are harder for me than other people. When I beat myself up for it, I just get worse and am overcome by a feeling of isolation.
I now acknowledge social anxiety is something I may always struggle with, and I have compassion for myself about it. I also know that other people suffer with it too (based on the comments on this video I made), so I’m not alone. Recognizing these facts actually helps me work on being more comfortable in social situations.
5. Hug yourself.
It sounds silly, but giving yourself a hug can mimic the benefits of getting one from another person. The feeling of nurturance we get from a hug produces the hormone oxytocin, which can help us feel calm, connected, and safe.
Our bodies can respond in the same way when we gently give ourselves a hug. Try it!
6. DON’T force yourself into positive thinking.
I’ll admit I’m very prone to seeing the negative in a situation, even though I’ve tried really hard to shift my mindset throughout the years. Positive mantras, positive intentions, writing about what I’m grateful for. It helps some, but a lot of the time I end up frustrated and fighting against myself.
Well, Kristin Neff has helped me realize why positivity can be so hard. We can’t successfully replace negative thoughts with positive ones and call it a day. We must first embrace the full range of our emotions—positive and negative (and everything in between).
And we can do that by having compassion for ourselves and the negative thoughts or feelings we experience. We’re no longer fighting against the negative, giving us space to emphasize the positive and remember what we’re grateful for.
7. Have a self-compassion mantra.
This is a practice Neff recommends when something goes wrong or we’re feeling something we don’t like.
You can create your own mantra with these four parts:
- Acknowledge you are suffering.
- Recognize suffering is a normal part of life.
- Send kindness towards yourself.
- Give yourself compassion for what you’re going through.
Self-Compassion: Remember, We’re All in This Together
Don’t forget we all share the common humanity of suffering. It’s part of life. By accepting that, we can actually help reduce our suffering by seeing it and moving through it instead of fighting it. That’s a powerful form of the self-compassion we all need.