Self-compassion is an approach to wellness which promotes the idea that we should all love and appreciate ourselves completely. On the surface, it seems pretty simple – but this concept is more revolutionary (and effective) than you might think.
We’re the first to admit that the number of “self” terms in the wellness sphere is getting a bit overwhelming. From self-care and self-love to self-help and self-confidence, there are so many wellness terms, trends and “hacks” going around the internet these days that it can be hard to keep up with it all.
But when it comes to self-compassion, we need you to hear us out. This approach to wellness – growing in popularity among psychologists and therapists alike – is one we should all be getting on board with in 2020.
Defined loosely as “treating yourself with the same kindness, concern and support you’d show to a good friend” in a paper published in Mindfulness and Self-Regulation, the approach of self-compassion simply refers to the idea that we all need to be a little bit kinder to ourselves.
Such an approach is more radical than you might think, even in the 21st century. Indeed, thanks to the pressures placed on women by society to achieve, be successful and look good while doing it, many of us fail to identify when we’re speaking to ourselves in an unnecessarily negative and critical way. With so much external influence on the way we live our lives, accepting ourselves no matter what the outside world may be saying is a pretty radical approach to adopt.
But doing so is way more important than we might think. Treating ourselves with kindness and acceptance – even if that’s simply reducing the amount of negative self-talk and criticism we feed ourselves on a daily basis (for example, calling yourself “stupid” or an “idiot” for forgetting to do something) can provide a whole host of benefits.
“One of the best ways we can support ourselves when we are struggling with low self-esteem is through self-compassion,” Dr Janina Scarlet, author of the upcoming book Super-Women: Superhero Therapy For Women Battling Depression, Anxiety and Trauma, previously told Stylist. “Self-compassion refers to treating ourselves in the same way as we might treat a dear friend. In this instance, it would mean noticing what harsh language we might be using toward ourselves, recognising that everyone struggles with similar difficulties, and practising supporting ourselves through kind words and actions.”
Self-compassion also has the potential to help us through particularly difficult or stressful periods of our lives, by providing us with a kind and nurturing inner voice which will support rather than criticise our actions and emotions in the face of adversity. It allows us to differentiate between doing a bad thing and being inherently bad. In turn, it can help us to develop an unshakeable sense of self-worth, meaning we are less likely to rely on the validation of others to achieve that sense of security.
When it comes to developing and understanding self-compassion, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject (and the first person to measure and define the term) Dr Kristin Neff, splits the approach into three concepts: the ability to be kind towards yourself and be less self-critical; the ability to recognise that the human experience is never plain sailing and difficult moments are a part of life; and the ability to be aware of unsettling or upsetting emotions and negative feelings and let them pass without ruining their day.
As Dr Neff previously explained: “Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves positively, self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are: flaws and all.”
Developing self-compassion may feel uncomfortable at first, but there are a few simple techniques we can use to get better at it.
How to develop self-compassion
1. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful about the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis is one of the best ways to practice self-compassion, because it allows you to identify when you’re speaking to yourself in a negative way and change that approach.
It’s important to remember that developing self-compassion is not going to be a quick endeavour – it’ll take an extended period of practising mindfulness and identifying your negative thoughts to notice when you’re judging yourself and redirect that message.
2. Think about how you would treat a friend
This self-compassion practice recommended by Dr Neff is as simple as it sounds – take some time out of your day to think about how your reaction to a situation or decision you’re involved with would change if your friend was in your shoes.
To do this, you can take out a piece of paper and write down the words and tone you’d use to comfort a friend who was feeling bad about themselves, and then compare that to the way you’d treat yourself.
If there’s a difference between the two (there most likely will be), Dr Neff suggests identifying the factors and fears that come into that difference of approach.
3. Keep a self-compassion journal
Another one of Dr Neff’s suggestions involves sitting down at the end of the day and writing down everything that has happened to you, processing those events through the lens of self-compassion.
Note down all the times that you judged yourself, felt bad about yourself or felt pain – and then go through each event and try to approach them with self-compassion.
“Keeping a daily journal in which you process the difficult events of your day through a lens of self-compassion can enhance both mental and physical wellbeing,” Dr Neff writes on her website. “This exercise will help make self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness part of your daily life.”
4. Treat yourself as you would a small child
As psychologist Carla Marie Manly tells Psychology Today, treating yourself with the same kindness and empathy you would a child helps you to identify all the things you might want or need in a hurtful situation.
“Although may adults do not have compassion for themselves, they are often able to recognise that a child with a bee sting or hurt knee wants/needs to be hugged or held,” she says. “Much progress can be made by giving the self the very compassion that one might give to a child.”