Why is Self-Compassion So Important?
Self-compassion may sound vague and daunting – it’s not usually something we're taught and so it must be learned. You may be wondering what self-compassion even means or perhaps believe it’s not possible to practice.
Because of past life experiences, we can develop a powerful self-critical voice. How often have you told yourself something like “I shouldn’t have said that”, “Why did I do that?”, or "I'm so stupid". It’s normal for us to reflect on and question our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. But sometimes, internalized messages lead us to feel ashamed, guilty, or inadequate. It can seem easier to be kinder to someone else than to ourselves.
The good news is that self-compassion doesn’t have to be difficult – you can start with small steps. Being compassionate towards yourself can improve your health, relationships, and general wellbeing. People who are kinder to themselves when they're suffering often notice their anxiety or depression reduce. Other long-term benefits can include increased motivation, general life satisfaction, overall happiness, a sense of hope about the future, and improved resilience.
What is self-compassion?
The most important relationship we have is the one with ourselves – if we treat ourselves the way we would a best friend or loved one, we stand to benefit greatly. Filling our cups allows us to be there for others more authentically and without putting aside our own needs.
Self-compassion means being kinder, gentler, caring, and forgiving during a difficult time we're having, or when a difficult thought/feeling arises. Dr. Kristin Neff is a researcher and therapist who raises awareness around the need for self-compassion. She describes it as “healing ourselves with kindness”.
If being kind to yourself a is new skill for you, its unfamiliarity may make you feel like you’re being selfish or narcissistic by putting yourself first. Self-compassion does mean focusing on yourself – but in a mindful and positive way. Caring for yourself is not selfish or narcissistic - it's necessary.
How can you be more self-compassionate?
Learning to have compassion for yourself can be challenging at first. Painful thoughts and feelings may surface from the past and you'll have to confront them. It’s okay – think of it as a process. Your journey of self-compassion can and will evolve throughout your lifetime.
According to psychologist Christopher Gerner, you can apply self-compassion physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Here are some examples:
Eat something healthy
Take a walk in nature
Let yourself rest
Give yourself a self-massage (maybe add in some essential oils!)
Observe your thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally
Tell yourself positive affirmations (“I will be kind to myself”)
Think of what you might tell a best friend and direct it inward
Write a caring letter to your younger self
Practice mindfulness (deep breathing, allowing space for emotions)
Accept yourself as you are, imperfections and all
Remind yourself of your strengths and qualities
Create healthy boundaries with others
Be kind to yourself when you make a mistake
Understand that all humans experience suffering
Ask for help when you need it
Begin a regular gratitude practice
Act according to your personal values
Take time to appreciate beauty in art, music, literature, etc.
Meditate or pray
Understand that practicing self-compassionate won’t get rid of difficult thoughts or feelings. What it will do is teach you to accept pain and suffering as part of the human experience with more ease. It's natural for us to suppress pain but that's not a helpful technique in the long term and can impact our health negatively. Take your time with learning self-compassion and remind yourself that you’re committed to living a happier, healthier life.