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What Is Self-Compassion and How to Practice It

women in yellow sweater with a journal in the park

“Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.”

You’ve probably heard or read this airline safety instruction before. In an emergency, if you help someone else with their mask first, you may pass out and be unable to help yourself. This isn’t just true for airline accidents. If you want to be able to take care of others effectively, you have to take care of your own needs, too.

Compassion is when you treat others with understanding, acceptance, and love. Self-compassion is when you are able to see yourself from the outside and have compassion for yourself as you would for someone else.

It’s natural to crave acceptance and approval from others, and people often reward you more when you turn your attention outward. However, you are important, too. When you take more complete care of yourself, you will be better able to care for others. Furthermore, you’ll be better able to see when someone is suffering in silence and be more capable of helping. Being compassionate to yourself improves your ability to be compassionate to others.

The more you practice self-compassion, the easier it will be for you to find out what brings meaning and purpose into your life. Keep reading to find out how you can use self-compassion to live a life filled with more happiness and contentment.

Why Is Self-Compassion Important?

Most people find it difficult to balance taking care of others and taking care of themselves. We live in a society that criticizes you for focusing on yourself and rewards you when you sacrifice for others. This can lead you to discount your own needs, even when you’re really hurting. This kind of neglect can lead to serious harm.

Taking proper care of yourself can be really inconvenient, though. You have obligations to work, family, and friends, and taking care of yourself can get in the way. The stronger and more capable you are, the more tempting it is to short-change yourself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need help. Additionally, it can be hard to know the difference between taking care of yourself and indulging. Learning how to have compassion for yourself can help you find the balance between self-care, overindulgence, and laziness.

When you practice self-compassion, you actually make yourself stronger. It can help you notice problems while they are small, so you can fix them before they get big. This is better than ignoring them or trying to just tough it out. You know what they say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Practicing self-compassion exercises can help you discover where you need the most help and where you can get the most benefits. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one technique you can practice that can help you change the way you think about yourself. It will help you talk to yourself in a way that helps you see things more clearly. Incorporating self-care like this into your daily routine is a powerful way to create change and find more satisfaction in life.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Compassion

Many people struggle with feelings of unworthiness. When you see others performing better than you or getting more attention, it may make you think you’re not good enough. Sometimes it can be a vague feeling that something is wrong with you. These kinds of feelings are signs of low self-esteem. If feelings of inadequacy lead you to neglect yourself, though, it can also lead to a lack of self-compassion.

Developing more compassion for yourself is one of the easiest ways to overcome the hurt that comes from low self-esteem. As you begin to feel better, you’ll find it easier to motivate yourself and improve. This can help lead you to achievements that can build a strong sense of ability that will boost your self-esteem. Along the way, you’ll notice you are building self-confidence as you progress.

The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen

Forgiveness is an important key that can help you tie everything together. When others have hurt you, or if you feel you’ve let yourself down, it can be hard to forgive and let go. This is especially difficult if the problem is ongoing, or if the other person hasn’t apologized. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to make yourself vulnerable again or trust someone who betrayed you. Forgiveness is about taking your power back and moving forward into the future. Forgiveness frees you from the need to spend time and attention on things that happened in the past that you can’t change.

Self-compassion can also help you realize when you are pushing yourself too hard or judging yourself too harshly. Not everybody can come in the first place, and there are some things you can’t change about yourself. You can always find ways to improve and be better, and practicing self-care will help you discover where you should put your best efforts.

Make Self-Compassion a Habit

You are worthy of love, forgiveness, and success. Letting go of the hurt and embracing yourself as a lovable, imperfect human being can set you free. As you practice self-love and make it a daily habit, it will get easier to do and be more rewarding.

You can start with some simple self-compassion practices. One example is to keep a gratitude journal or download a CBT app to your phone. The app will gently remind you when you haven’t practiced CBT in a while and will help you stay motivated. You could also start an exercise routine or increase the amount of time you spend exercising. Physical activity gives you more energy and releases endorphins that can help you find motivation. Instead of comparing yourself to others and worrying about what they think, you can practice comparing yourself to who you were yesterday.

woman in a yellow sweater journaling in the park
Making consistent small changes adds up over time (Image Source: Shutterstock)

There are many different ways you can practice self-compassion. Keeping track of your efforts is an important way to stay motivated and know how much you’ve improved. Once you start, you may find it easier than you expected both to continue and to find new things to try.

Making consistent small changes adds up over time. I recommend you create a self-compassion worksheet right now. Keep it simple and easy, and commit to tracking your efforts for one month. You may be surprised how easy it is to treat yourself with more compassion.