When times get tough or you find yourself stuck in a rut, how often do you express compassion towards yourself? If it’s not very often (or ever), you’re not alone. A lack of self-compassion can be quite common these days.
As humans, we’ve been conditioned to feel that we are not good enough; that there’s something wrong with us and if only we could be better or do better, everything would be fine.
These beliefs result in feelings of unworthiness, shame, guilt, anger, sorrow and fear. Since many of these painful emotions are masked, we really don’t notice them until they surface in other ways such as anxiety, depression, or physical illness. The good news is that you can develop self-compassion and improve your overall wellness and happiness.
Self-compassion is the art of identifying, understanding and coping with your emotions in a nurturing way. It requires empathy, kindness and warmth towards yourself. Self-compassion also involves building your self-worth based on who you are, not what you do.
Recent research shows that individuals who practice self-compassion tend to show more motivation when facing stressful situations while those lacking in self-compassion tend to avoid or engage in unhealthy habits as a means of coping.
Let’s look at 4 steps you can take to start developing self-compassion so you can feel happier and more in control.
1. Accept mistakes as growth
See yourself as a thriver, not a failure. Stop punishing yourself for mistakes, and practice forgiving yourself.
Practice self-forgiveness – especially when making mistakes and falling short. By seeing these as normal parts of life rather than something that makes you a failure, it will become easier to see them as opportunities to grow and learn. In addition, forgiving yourself will relieve stress, and the tension that comes from holding on to regret and guilt over something you did or didn’t do. These four steps can be practiced individually or all together for developing compassion for ourselves. It is through patience, persistence and being kind towards ourselves that we can learn to embrace imperfection and move on from guilt and regret.
We need to recognize our own strengths and abilities, acknowledge what happened in the past as an important part of our growth, and learn from it without judging ourselves or feeling guilty for making mistakes.
When we are self-compassionate, we also tend to have a positive perspective, which includes feeling more confident in our ability to handle whatever comes up in the future.
2. Say goodbye to the inner critic
Learn how to recognize the voice of your inner critic and make it less powerful by learning the art of self-compassion.
Make a list of positive things about yourself
Focus on the things that make you feel good about yourself, not what’s negative. Keep a journal and write about your accomplishments and the things you are proud of yourself for, no matter how small they may seem.
Challenge negative self-talk
Challenge negative self-talk by replacing it with something more positive or realistic.
Examples of negative self-talk include:
- “I can’t do this.”
- “I am a complete failure.”
- “I am stupid.”
- “I can’t figure this out.”
- “It’s weak to ask for help.”
- “I should be able to do/be better than this.”
The negative voice of your inner critic is usually persistent. The more you hear that critical voice, the stronger it gets. Therefore, try to become aware of it as soon as you can and replace those negative thoughts with positive ones instead. Use self-compassionate statements when dealing with frustrating situations or difficult people like “I am having difficulty with this and I don’t know why, but it’s okay” or “I’m doing my best. Perfection is not a requirement.”
When we constantly remind ourselves of our shortcomings, it makes us feel bad and unmotivated. When we choose to reinforce positive thoughts instead, it helps us to maintain momentum towards achieving goals, which can put us on the path to self-love and self-compassion.
Banish the word “should”
Replace “I should” or ” I must” statements with statements that begin with “I choose.”
For example, instead of saying “I should go to the gym today” say “I choose to go to the gym today”. Replace negative thoughts with a more realistic statement. For example, if you feel like a work disappointment, recognize that you are only human and everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
Stop putting yourself down
Make sure that your positive statements include the idea that you are worth being kind to. Tell yourself what you really wish someone else would say to you in those circumstances.
Consider talking to yourself as in the following examples:
Example 1: if you feel like a failure for missing an important deadline at work, ask yourself: “What is one thing I could have done differently? What would my boss tell me if she knew all the facts and circumstances involved?”
Example 2: If I miss a deadline, my boss will say… “It’s okay; everyone makes mistakes sometimes.” Instead of saying… “I am such an idiot! Why can’t I ever get anything right?” In doing so, you will stop battling yourself over your mistakes and gain a more balanced perspective.
Write down all of your answers and make these positive statements come true by telling yourself these things when feeling self-critical.
Practice gratitude when feeling self-critical
Developing gratitude for what you do have rather than focusing on what you don’t.
Instead of focusing on what’s lacking in your life, shift your thinking toward looking for ways to practice gratitude for things both big and small in your daily life. for the things you already have or are grateful to have a second chance at doing something.
3. Let Go of Perfectionism
The fourth step is to work on letting go of perfectionism, which often comes with high expectations and demands for ourselves that are unachievable or unrealistic. When we strive to live up to an unattainable standard (and believe we have failed), it brings about feelings of guilt, shame and low self-worth.
In his book “The Road Less Traveled,” psychologist M. Scott Peck shares his view that the pursuit of perfection imprisons us because we are no longer able to view life realistically with a non-judgmental perspective – which is how mindfulness works. It allows us to look at things as they are without trying to change or fix it.
When we are self-compassionate, we accept things how they are and leave the past behind us without regret. We also forgive ourselves for our mistakes and the bad decisions that we have made – which is essential in letting go of perfectionism.
No one is perfect. This step will help you embrace imperfection and be willing to accept failure and move on, rather than seeing yourself as a failure that never learns from their mistakes. Also, see yourself as a person who has the ability to learn from your mistakes and take action: this will help you stop feeling so guilty about making mistakes, because you now see that it is possible to bounce back and recover.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness consists of:
- Awareness of the present moment
- Awareness of thoughts, emotions and sensations
- Awareness of goals and intentions
Mindfulness also includes seeing our experiences in a non-judgmental way – to see things as they are instead of reacting to them with negative or positive thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.
Cultivating mindfulness helps us to be more present with what is going on, rather than in our heads thinking about the past or future.
People who have high levels of self-compassion are more likely to be mindful of their feelings and thoughts, and these feelings/thoughts can affect how they act or react towards themselves.
Take steps towards becoming your own best friend instead of your worst enemy. Stop comparing yourself to others. You deserve compassion just like everyone else you give it to on a daily basis. Be your own BFF!