“How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion.”
Self-compassion is a necessary ingredient for a healthy relationship: “If an individual is geared toward neglecting the self while doting on others, this uneven balance will eventually take its toll. When a person has true compassion for the self, that compassion then supports healthy, balanced relationships.”
The following are 5 ways to begin practicing self-compassion and stop being so hard on yourself:
1. Treat yourself as you would a small child.
Manly suggests considering what a child might want or need in a hurtful situation. That child could be your own, or you could imagine yourself as a child. “Although many adults do not have compassion for themselves,” she says, “they are often able to recognize that a child with a bee sting or hurt knee wants/needs to be hugged or held. Much progress can be made by giving the self the very compassion that one might give to a child.” You can also think of the way you would treat a good friend, or even a beloved pet, and then begin treating yourself accordingly.
2. Practice mindfulness.
When we find ourselves caught in a barrage of self-criticism, it is often because we have gotten swept away in our negative storylines — usually ones that often play on repeat in our heads: “You always say such stupid things. You don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s why nobody likes you,” and so on. This process of over-identification, giving in to our internal critic, is usually accompanied by its counterpart, negative rumination. Mindfulness, or the state of non-judgmental awareness, is the antidote to both.
Psychotherapist and wellness coach Megan Bruneau(link is external) suggests practicing simple awareness of thoughts and feelings, particularly the “critical inner voice” — without trying to change anything. She helps her clients understand how their critical inner voice has been helpful in the past. “What or who was it protecting you from? How did it motivate or comfort you? Once you find understanding and compassion for the critical voice, you can thank it for the good intentions.”
3. Remember that you’re not alone.
Bruneau reminds clients that to feel is to be human, and that whatever they’re going through is also being experienced by millions of others. If we can recognize our shared humanity — that not one of us is perfect — we can begin to feel more connected to others, with a sense that we’re all in this together. “So many people believe they’re ‘broken’ or ‘screwing up,’” says Bruneau, “when in actuality we’re all fumbling our way through this script-less existence together.”
Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, agrees: “Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves and realizing that the human condition is imperfect and that our flaws and setbacks should connect us and not divide us.”
4. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Columnist and breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott says that “self-compassion is about giving ourselves room to be human, to be flawed and sensitive, lazy and unproductive, without having to define ourselves by those flashes of feelings and ways of being. It’s about cultivating a perspective over ourselves so we never shut ourselves down and never lose faith in our own potential just because we may fly off the deep end one night or hole up in our apartment all weekend.”
Psychotherapist Kristen Martinez likes to use the “permission slip” metaphor, which is the idea of giving yourself permission to make a mistake — as a way of accepting however you are feeling, and acknowledging that other people feel or have felt this way before.
5. Work with a supportive therapist or coach.
We know that our brains have the ability to learn self-compassion but cultivating new patterns of thought or behavior takes effort. “It’s tough to learn self-compassion all on our own,” Shah says. “Therapy provides a safe environment in which the therapist can help you:
1. notice your thoughts and feelings; 2. have a realistic perspective of yourself and others; and
3. demonstrate empathy for you. In time, you will begin to internalize these skills and integrate them into your own life perspective.”
Finding a therapist with whom you feel safe and supported is key. Your therapist should help you see through the smoke and mirrors of negative beliefs to find your way back to the amazing person you’ve always been.