If you search for the term “self-compassion” online, you will easily receive over a million results. The concept is popular, and for good reason. Self-compassion is associated with greater psychological well-being, lower depression and anxiety, and increased ability to bounce back from crises.

You might be wondering, what exactly is self-compassion? Self-compassion is the practice of noticing the ways in which you are struggling, and then showing the same kindness to yourself that you would typically reserve for others who are experiencing something similar.

It is about taking time in the present moment to notice negative self-talk and choosing to change your reaction to those negative messages. Examples of self-compassionate statements include:

  • “Even though things did not turn out how I wanted them to, I did what I thought was best. Tomorrow is another day.”
  • “I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes and I will try something different in the future.”

To practice self-compassion is to acknowledge that you are not alone in your experiences and that your struggles are part of what makes you human. Many generously show compassion towards friends and family and accept it gratefully when it is shown in return. It feels good to give and to receive this type of caring.

However, that same compassion can be very difficult to show yourself. It can feel like you are letting yourself off the hook. Or, you may think if you do give yourself a break, you will be less likely to do what needs to be done to improve your situation. Self-compassion makes it possible for both to be true; you can show yourself compassion and be motivated towards change.

If we only focus on the feeling of disappointment because of a mistake, it can be incredibly difficult to take action. If you decide that you are a disappointment, then it can feel like nothing you do will make much of a difference to improve your situation.

Having self-compassion is about recognizing the difference between being a flawed, disappointing person, and being a human who has done something disappointing. It’s important to accept the idea that letting yourself down is sometimes just part of being human. Changing your mindset can restore hope that the future can look different and that you can bring about change. With increased hope comes increased motivation for change.

Be kind to yourself

Here are four strategies that can help you be more self-compassionate:

  1. Think about what you would tell a friend in the same situation. Really listen to your words of encouragement and comfort. Repeat them to yourself.
  2. Imagine sitting with someone you trust. Think about what they would tell you. Close your eyes and hear their words of kindness and caring. When your doubtful thoughts come up and try to knock down those kind, caring words, notice the negativity and bring your focus back to the positive words.
  3. Take back the power in your life by choosing to experiment with change. Critical thoughts steal our motivation and energy for change. Identify the first steps you could take to make positive changes in your life and try not to judge the size of your first step.
  4. Work with a supportive therapist or counselor. Therapists and counselors can remind you that you are not alone in your struggle and can help you to give yourself permission to make mistakes. They can guide your practice of self-compassion and help you with the first three strategies listed above. They can also assist you in learning about how to apply mindfulness to your life, which is the state of nonjudgmental awareness and the opposite of self-criticism.

I like to refer people to read more about self-compassion at this website from psychologist Kristin Neff, a leading expert in this area.

If you would like to learn more about how to increase your level of self-compassion, and other ways to improve your psychological well-being, please visit the Being section on our Lifespan Living blog. If you would like to be connected with one of our psychologists or therapists, call us at 401-606-0606.

You can also learn more about our services and how they might help you on our website

Jeniimarie Febres, PhD

Dr. Jeniimarie Febres is a clinical psychologist with the Family Therapy program. She specializes in the treatment of adults in individual, couples, and family therapy. Her research interests include couples and family functioning.