In part one of my self-compassion series I talked about the benefits of developing self-compassion. This time in part two, we’ll be looking at how you can cultivate self-compassion in your own life. Treating ourselves gently and compassionately is not always an easy skill to master, because critical thinking is often unconsciously reinforced from when we’re very young. Conventional parenting tells us that challenging behaviour should be met with time-outs or labelling children/behaviour as ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’. Even as loving parents we can reinforce habits of either feeling unworthy of love/support or of directing negative thinking towards ourselves (“I’m a bad husband” for instance) when we fail. Self-compassion on the other hand tells us that we are worthy of love and support and allows us to let go of self-criticism. This is a very different approach and requires a fair amount of practice. (Incidentally, if you are a parent reading this and interested in helping your children develop self-compassion from the beginning, I would highly recommend Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn or the Baby Calm/Toddler Calm series).
Here are my thoughts on 5 ways to develop self-compassion.
Experience the feeling of self-compassion
Experiencing the feeling of self-compassion can help you to draw down upon this feeling when needed. I’ve prepared a self-compassion meditation you can download that will help you to cultivate the feeling of self-compassion. This is a good one to listen to at the beginning of your journey but also in those moments when you recognise that you are lacking in self-compassion. I’d urge you to make the meditation experience an exercise in kindness towards yourself as well. Let go of any thoughts you have about meditation postures and just make yourself comfortable with blankets and cushions. If you fall asleep, that’s great. Your body obviously needed it and will feel more restored afterwards.
Write down what your needs are
Part of self-compassion is looking after yourself in a supportive and loving manner, just like you would a friend or loved one. Understanding what you need is central to this but we rarely spend time thinking about it. Take a few moments when you’re relaxed to write down what you need in order to:
- Feel safe and secure
- Inspire joy or add variety to your life
- Make you feel significant or worthwhile
- Feel loved
- Grow as a person
- Feel rested and well
This is also a good practice when you recognise that you need to be more gentle and kind towards yourself. Allow yourself to consider what you need in that moment.
Take time to meet your needs
Once you have your list, explore how you can support yourself to make some of these items priorities in your daily life. You may decide to start with one area (e.g. feeling rested and well) and prioritise that before introducing another area. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. The key is to be kind to yourself and recognise that your needs are valid and important. Looking after yourself isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s vital to ensure you can effectively look after other people or work projects. You may want to explain this to your family and friends so they can support you in looking after yourself.
Be kind to yourself when you fail or make a mistake
If you do find yourself in a situation where you’ve made a mistake, be aware of any critical thinking you may be engaging in. Noticing this critical thinking may be enough for you to let it go and consider instead how you could talk to yourself with a more compassionate voice. In the way you would a good friend who was having the same issue. If noticing isn’t enough, you may find it works better to write down the situation and your feelings around it as this often has the effect of distancing ourselves from our thoughts. With this distance we can see them as just thoughts and not intrinsically true or valid. Again, consider how you could be kind to yourself in this moment. What is the positive interpretation of this situation? How can you learn from it? Consider how common this mistake is as part of the human experience. We all make mistakes.
Repeating self-compassion affirmations can help you to reinforce a compassionate way of thinking so you instinctively start to think that way. Some affirmations you may want to write down or repeat to yourself are listed below.
- I trust myself to deal with any situation that arises
- Every mistake I make is an opportunity to learn
- I will talk to myself with kindness today
- I accept myself as a whole and complete person with flaws and unique qualities
- Looking after myself is important
- I deserve to feel well and happy
- I am worthy of compassion
- My body and mind are capable of healing
- My heart is full of love for myself and others