I am a lover of self-compassion. Seriously, I could talk your ear off for hours. When I first discovered self-compassion in graduate school, I wondered, where has this been all of my life? It seems to me that we are most familiar with is self-criticism, self-judgement, and low self-esteem.
I have discovered, however, in my work and in my life, that self-compassion is foundational to a life well-lived.
Kristen Neff, pioneering self-compassion researcher, defines self-compassion as: extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. She adds that self-compassion is composed of three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
But why is self-compassion so difficult? Why is it a challenge to be kind to ourselves?
In working with clients, I have found that self-compassion is such an abstract concept that people sometimes don’t know where to begin.
Below is one of my favorite self-compassion exercises, as well as a bit of inspiration to try to begin cultivating a more self-compassionate life.
Just remember…you are worth the effort.
Your relationship with yourself if the most important and permanent relationship you will ever have, so why not make it amazing?
Self-Compassion Exercise: Changing your critical self-talk
First, begin by becoming aware of your internal dialog or thoughts. Sometimes we are unaware of how harsh our internal critic can be. With enough observation, you may discover key statements that come up over and over again, such as, “I did it again, I am such a loser.”
Next, consider a more compassionate stance. How can you soften and be kind to yourself in this moment? What words of comfort can you offer yourself? What words of comfort would you offer a close friend, and can you extend that to yourself? Can you think of a statement that feels a little bit better, softer, kinder, such as I made a mistake, I’ll do better the next time.
Being kind to ourselves can feel really foreign, and we can struggle to find words of comfort to offer ourselves. Start small and stay with it. It may be helpful to keep a journal of your critical self-talk statements and write out a compassionate response. See how your self-compassion language can expand and grow over time.
Love after Love
The time will come
When, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give Bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.