How To Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is probably the most important aspect of self-love. Without it, it’s impossible to love yourself in any real way. But most of us have been programmed since we were infants to be the opposite of compassionate towards ourselves. So how do we know what it even is anymore, and how can we practice it?

There is so much information online about self-compassion. If it’s something you’re interested in, check out the work of people like:

  • Christopher Germer
  • Tara Brach
  • Rick Hanson
  • Kelly McGonigal
  • Brene Brown

My favourite definition of self-compassion by far is the one created by Kristin Neff though. She divides it up into three key components:

  1. Self-kindness – that we be “gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental”.
  2. Common humanity – “feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering”.
  3. Mindfulness – “that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it”.

I really like the way she breaks this down because it makes it so much easier to digest and process. By looking at self-compassion as these three unique components I can really examine whether or not I am practicing self-compassion by asking these three questions:

  1. Am I holding myself to unrealistic expectations and/or punishing myself for failing to reach them?
  2. Have I found a community of people who share my experiences, struggles, hopes and dreams?
  3. Am I making time in my life to stay connected with myself through mindfulness or meditation?

I think one of the trickiest things with self-compassion is understanding how it can co-exist with responsibility. There’s a fine line between showing yourself compassion and letting yourself off the hook.

For example, if I’m determined to get my daughter into school on time every single day for a week (might not seem difficult to most people but it’s a monumental achievement for me), but I only manage to get her in on time on one of the five days, how can I be compassionate to myself without letting myself off the hook?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Self-compassion was one of the first things I learned in therapy. It really is a skill. It doesn’t come naturally to us, at least not by the time we reach adulthood. So, we have to really work at developing it if we want to love ourselves.

I think the key is to think about how we would treat someone we loved in the same situation. If my best friend called me up and started telling me what a stupid bitch and terrible parent she is for always being so late and never getting her kid into school on time, what would I say?

Would I say, “yeah you really are a shit parent and your child should probably be taken off you”… or would I say something like, “chill the fuck out dude, you were five minutes late. You didn’t set the school on fire or kill a puppy”, or maybe ” yes OK your kid will always be the one who’s five minutes late, but she’s also always going to be the one with the lovely manners and the great packed lunch and the lovely French plaits”.

By talking to my friend this way I’m not exactly letting her off the hook. I’m not telling her it’s no problem if she’s always late. But I am trying to give her a little perspective and comfort. Because she’s my friend and I love her. And of all the horrible awful despicable things a person can do in life, being five minutes late really isn’t one of them!

So, if I can be this compassionate towards my best friend, why not myself?

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I guess the reason I decided to write a post on self-compassion is down to the fact that everywhere I go I see people berate themselves with unbelievable harshness over the silliest of things. And it’s genuinely disturbing. Once you start to practice self-compassion yourself, you really notice how lacking most other people are in it. It’s so stark.

I listen to my friends and family say the meanest things about themselves and it hurts me to hear them. I was even watching The Great British Bake Off the other night and I was genuinely astounded by how harsh the bakers were about the smallest mistakes they made. Why can’t we all be a little bit nicer to ourselves?

All we have to do is three things:

  1. Remember that it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to be imperfect, and talk to ourselves the way we talk to our friends when things don’t go as planned
  2. Make sure we establish connections with people like us, other single parents, other body positive women, other disabled folks… whatever… people who struggle with the same things as we do
  3. Pout time aside regularly to switch off from the world and reconnect to ourselves and remind ourselves of the bigger picture so we can stop sweating the small stuff

So, let’s try to incorporate a little more self-compassion into our lives, shall we? And stop being such dicks to ourselves FFS!

Sarah x

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