Imagine your friend comes to you in tears, tells you that they’ve just failed an important exam, and they are feeling awful. You try to console their tears and lend a listening ear. They start saying things like, “I’m so stupid!” “I can never show my face in class again!” The feeling of sadness you experience is in response to the distress your friend is in. To be helpful, you would likely say things like, “You are not stupid!” “You will be able to come back to class, this is just an exam.”
Compassion comes naturally when we see someone we care about suffering. Whether the suffering is caused by something horrific, or something as small as an exam, we are capable of caring for our loved ones when they need it most.
Now, imagine that you are the person who has failed an important exam. Do you show up kindly for yourself or are you critical? It’s safe to say that self-criticism is a common struggle. Afterall, it’s much easier to name things you don’t like about yourself than it is to name things you do like. We have the capacity to be downright cruel to ourselves and say things in our mind that we would never say out loud to a loved one.
What if we showed up for ourselves the way we showed up for the people who need us most? Don’t we need ourselves? We are stuck with our thoughts and should consider the possibility of what being a friend could do for our suffering. This will be the longest relationship we have, the relationship we have with ourselves, and it’s worth nurturing. Self-compassion is the ability to be gentle, caring, and accepting of yourself. It’s the choice to be patient and understanding when you experience a failure, a negative self-doubting thought, or make a mistake.
3 straightforward ways to start being self-compassionate:
Imagine you are with someone who cares about you and comforts you when you’re upset. Picture their facial gestures, what they might say to you, or how their comfort would make you feel. Receive the concern and kindness they would provide you.
Write down things that you’ve recently accomplished, compliments you’ve received, or moments you felt pride. Reflect on the positive thoughts and emotions you felt during these experiences. Remind yourself that those thoughts and emotions are just as valid as any other thoughts and emotions.
Create affirmations that you can remember when you’re really upset. These should be short and easy to recall when your thoughts are spiraling. Examples could be: “I am learning. Mistakes are common and I am not alone. I can choose to be kind to myself in this moment.”
Having self-compassion can benefit us both in the moment and long-term. Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, explains that self-compassion can support lowering stress hormones, increasing overall resilience, and reducing self-criticism.
Start with the smallest change and you will see big things unfold.