Self-compassion is about having a gentler inner dialogue, rather than a harsh critic. It is about accepting ourselves for all our imperfections, and dropping hard judgements. Showing self-compassion does not mean that you are not going to work on areas of your life that need improvement, it is just about taking a kinder and healthier approach.
Research shows several psychological and physiological benefits to having a compassionate mindset with ourselves. (Neff, 2011) This includes higher life satisfaction, better emotional quotient, optimism, reduced depression and anxiety, and reduced eating disorders.
Theory suggests that self-compassion causes several chemical changes in our brain. It “deactivates the threat system (associated with feelings of insecurity, defensiveness, and the limbic system) and activates the self-soothing system (associated with feelings of secure attachment, safeness, and the oxytocin-opiate system).” (Neff, 2011)
We can cultivate self-compassion through being kinder to ourselves, practicing mindfulness, and accepting that suffering and making mistakes are part of the human experience.
Some exercises you can try are:
- Take small steps to bring improvement to your physical and mental self. This can be anything ranging from cooking something nutritious for yourself, resting, exercising, or doing something creative that brings you joy.
- Recall a distressing time in your life, and simultaneously paying attention to the physical reactions happening in your body as a result. Show compassion to each part of your body that is experiencing discomfort, and use affirmations, verbally or internally, to remind yourself to be patient with your own mistakes and shortcomings
- Talk to yourself in the same way that you would to someone you love. Think about all the things your harsh inner critic tells you. How would you react to someone you love telling you this?
- At times of struggle or difficulty, pay attention to how critical your mind initially is. Then, try to slowly but surely, change your mind to react more compassionately. Take note of how this makes you feel.
- Focus on your accomplishments and what you are proud of in yourself. Self-compassion includes building intrinsic motivation to do better by associating accomplishments with positivity, rather than failures with negativity.
- Practice mindfulness through activities such as meditation. Focusing on our breathing allows us to calm our minds and regain control of our inner dialogue. A good resource is this 20-minute guided meditation by Chris Germer: https://chrisgermer.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Loving-KindnessforOurselves20.41ckgamplified12-14-14.mp3 (Instructions available at: https://chrisgermer.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/LK-for-Ourselves_2017.pdf)
Growing a compassionate mindset for yourself can have a much healthier and positive impact on your quality of life.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self‐compassion, self‐esteem, and well‐being. Social and personality psychology compass, 5(1), 1-12.