It’s easy to be kind to other people, but how do you treat yourself? For many, the answer is not so good. Instead of bombarding yourself with tough love and criticism, try a softer, gentler approach that allows for mistakes, growth and even a bit of playfulness. Adding a dose of self-compassion makes us more resilient, at-ease and comfortable in our skin.
Self-Compassion: Why It’s Important
Our inner voice chats in our ear constantly. How we see ourselves and treat ourselves depends on whether that voice is nurturing or damning. What does your inner voice sound like? One way to tell is to start journaling.
Give yourself three to five minutes for stream-of-consciousness journaling. Set a timer and write whatever comes to mind – no filtering. After journaling, read it over. Do you notice any patterns? Are there any unkind words, phrases or themes that stand out?
This cruel self-talk is our inner critic, and it can be brutal. Who needs to deal with enemies when we do this to ourselves? Dr. Marcuetta Sims, Licensed Psychologist, Yoga and Meditation Teacher at The Worth, Wisdom, and Wellness Center, states that these voices in our head aren’t even ours.
“We often have histories of people saying mean things to us, and we have internalized those mean things as our own self-talk,” Sims said. “We live in a world where all the external messages tell you that you have to be more or less of something in order to be enough.”
Constantly pushing ourselves to be more and do more puts us in a chronic state of stress that diminishes physical and mental health.
“I often hear a misconception from clients that they need to be hard on themselves to reach their goals,” said Dr. Jeannette Craigfeld, Licensed Psychologist with Therapy Group of DC. “They fear that being too kind to themselves will make them too lazy. On the contrary, research has shown that increased compassion for yourself and others can actually improve positive motivation and help people reach their goals in more sustainable ways.”
Self-kindness is important, but it isn’t easy.
“There is often a discomfort that initially comes from changing our inner dialogue,” said Samantha Kingma, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Rest and Renew Therapy. “Even if we understand the logic behind the kind words we are saying to ourselves, we may not initially feel that the things we are saying to ourselves are true. This discomfort can make it difficult to follow through and implement this new, kinder self-talk.”
Learning to treat yourself kindly during times of pain or failure is a pillar of self-kindness. More often than not, harsh self-criticism during difficulties creates a double arrow. Making a mistake feels painful enough, but it’s compounded by berating oneself. Feelings of inadequacy make us less likely to try again in the future. When you begin a self-kindness practice, remember to be easy on yourself.
How do you shift into a kinder, more compassionate way of treating yourself? Mental health experts weigh in with tips to start a daily self-kindness practice.
Self-compassion tips from mental health experts
Dr. Marcuetta Sims
- Recognize the awkwardness of beginning a self-compassion practice, but don’t let that stop you. It will get easier over time.
- Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would an innocent child, extending the same level of compassion.
- Practice forgiveness. Now that you’re looking at yourself with a compassionate heart, you can begin to forgive any perceived shortcomings. Start by saying, “I forgive you for” and add whatever needs compassion at the moment.
- Acknowledge small efforts and reward yourself for every step along the way.
- Start by identifying any negative messages. “What are the things you tell yourself when something goes wrong?”
- Ask yourself, “If a friend said this about him or herself, how would you respond? Would you agree or counter the statement with some positive feedback, soothing or encouragement?” Be the friend that you need.
- Write down the kind words you would tell a friend. You can use post-its to place them everywhere – on your mirror, next to your bed, at your desk or anywhere you’ll see them.
- Practice saying these kind words throughout the day. Over time, the phrases will begin to feel more authentic as your self-view shifts.
Dr. Jeannette Craigfeld
- Emphasize the importance of compassion. Compassion to others and to ourselves are so deeply entwined that it’s hard to fully have one without the other. Once you do that, you realize that compassion towards others doesn’t work without being compassionate to the self.
- Add in a meditation practice. Try a Loving-Kindness Meditation, which is a form of meditation that encourages you to focus on compassion towards others and ourselves. You can find guided meditation online or through apps like Liberate, Headspace or Calm.
- Direct compassion inward. Write a caring letter to yourself or your younger self as a way to extend powerful self-kindness. Remembering that we were once children is a great way to get us to be kinder and gentler to ourselves.
Where to start
Start where you are! Be kind to yourself every step of the way. Your unkind self-view wasn’t created in a day. Recognize it’ll take some time to shed. Let in one kind statement and action at a time. Don’t make your lack of self-kindness one more thing to beat yourself up over. Take this process step by step and congratulate yourself for beginning the process. Now you’re one step closer to self-kindness.
Craigfeld, Jeannette. Email Interview. By Blanche Baxter. 4 Oct. 2021.
Kingma, Samantha. Email Interview. By Blanche Baxter. 5 Oct. 2021.
Neff, Kristin. “The Five Myths of Self-Compassion.” Greater Good, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion.
“Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude toward Oneself.” Taylor & Francis, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860309032.
Sims, Marcuetta. Email Interview. By Blanche Baxter. 7 Oct. 2021.