Cultivating Self-Compassion

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“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” –Jack Kornfield  

The idea that we should have compassion for others is a fairly common one. Most of us regard compassion as a vital spiritual and moral value. But compassion for ourselves? Not so easy.  

People often mistake self-compassion for self-pity or self-indulgence. But as psychologist Kristina Neff explains, self-compassion is neither. Rather, it’s when we act “kind and merciful” towards our own personal failings. It’s when we face our humanness head-on, acknowledging the times that life is difficult rather than giving ourselves the “stiff upper lip.”

While you may be skeptical (“Who am I to be nice to myself?”), self-compassion has shown to decrease anxiety and provide greater resilience. People who practice self compassion are more likely to take responsibility for their mistakes.  

If you struggle to be kind to yourself, or struggle to understand the notion of self-compassion, here are a few ways you can start.

Notice Your Inner Voice

Pay attention to your inner voice or internal dialogue. Notice when it is harsh, critical, or just downright mean. These are the moments you need compassion the most.

Treat Yourself Like You Would a Loved One

Imagine yourself as a friend or even a small child. Would you tell them to just “get over it” if they were suffering? Unlikely! Imagine how you’d respond to their pain and use those same gentle words on yourself.      

Recognize Your Humanity

Give yourself permission to be flawed, imperfect, and messy. The more we try to deny these inevitable parts of our humanity, the more anguish we feel when reality reminds us that we are less than perfect. Accepting ourselves as human from the get-go diminishes the blows of any harsh judgments or impossible standards we place on ourselves.

Know You’re Not Alone

Self-pity tells us we are the only ones who struggle. But self-compassion means seeing our pain mirrored in others and realizing we’re all part of the same human experience. Familiarize yourself with suffering of others and learn to connect. You’ll start to notice that being kind to yourself goes hand-in-hand with being kind to others. It is more powerful to heal as a group than suffer in isolation.

Engage in Meaningful Action

When we are in pain, wallowing feels easier than taking meaningful action. But being kind to ourselves can mean doing what’s difficult. When you are in pain, ask yourself not just what you want, but what you need. Maybe you need to let go of something or have a difficult conversation with someone. Have the courage to do what’s hard. And if you struggle to take those steps, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that you can always ask for help.  

Be Patient And Forgive Yourself

You’ll mess up, you’ll fall short. You’ll find that things don’t go as planned, and when they don’t, you may react poorly. Punishing yourself for these things won’t ease the feelings of disappointment. Instead, forgive yourself. Allot time to sit and understand the pain without judgment and without defining yourself by your shortcomings.

You may have been conditioned your whole life to be self-critical, dismissive, or to bat away suffering. Remember that any change in mindset takes time. There’s no deadline for being kind to yourself. Even the most enlightened person will tell you that compassion is a life-long journey. It’s never too late to start.

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