Self-compassion, what is it and how do I practice it?

Self-compassion is a hard concept to grasp. There are many schools of thought when it comes to what self-compassion is vs what it isn’t. The first thing to address is understanding the difference between self-indulgence, self-compassion and self-pity. 

Self-Indulgence, Self-Compassion and Self-Pity

  • Self-indulgence is an act of over engaging in an activity in the moment because it feels good. This could look like, we have a stressful day and we eat half a pint of ice cream or overindulge in alcohol. Often self-indulgence helps us in the here and now but rarely helps us in the long term. 
  • Self-pity means that we wallow in our sorrows. Often believing that we are the only one this is happening to. This causes extra suffering for ourselves, drives away our support system and creates a belief system that we are helpless. It is easy to get caught in this trap, especially when things are feeling more and more challenging. 
  • Self-compassion on the other hand is a balance of doing what will support our current and future self, holding accountability and recognizing that we are not alone in our suffering. When we embrace self-compassion we embrace self-nurturing.

Teaching Ourselves

When we are young many of us are taught that when things get hard we simply need to “suck it up” or “shove it down”. In the moments where we are most distressed, most of us need someone to look at us and say something like “I know this is hard right now, I know you are overwhelmed, I hear you and I get it. I’m here for you through this and we will do it together”. Compassion is a challenging practice because often we are not taught this and in turn have to teach ourselves how to become more nurturing. 

Self-compassion is the act of looking at our suffering, seeing it as suffering and offering that nurturing hand to ourselves. Self-compassion is taking the judgment out. Instead of deciding that we shouldn’t be upset or that we are powerless, we embrace the emotions just as they are. Understanding that this too shall pass, it does not define us, but in the moment we are feeling it – we can be with ourselves lovingly. 

There are many acts of self-compassion that we can give ourselves. Here are 6: 

  • Recognizing and naming emotions without judgment 
  • Embracing empathy over shame 
  • Reminding yourself that you are not alone in your struggle (we all struggle sometimes, it is a part of the human experience) 
  • Learning from our mistakes, understanding that they do not define us 
  • Listening to the needs of our bodies and adjusting accordingly. 
    • Ex: If I had a hard time sleeping the night before, instead of pushing myself right away in the morning, I give myself and extra 20 minutes of sleep. Instead of holding the narrative of being lazy – I give myself compassion for what I am needing. 
  • Reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can and we always have room to grow 

Self-compassion can be practiced as a form of mindfulness, there are a couple meditations that I recommend to practice self-compassion. And for many, it is easiest to start embracing self-compassion through action. Below you can find links to Kristin Neff & Tara Brach’s work on self-compassion. 

Journal Prompts: 

Reflect on: What did I learn growing up around emotions and accepting and loving myself in my emotions? How do I want to change those lessons to fit what I need now? Are there ways that I can start nurturing myself – even in small day to day actions?

Kristin Neff: Self-Compassion Break:

Tara Brach: RAIN 

Patrice Flanagan-Morris, LCSW
Psychotherapist & Community Educator

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