Why you need self-compassion in your life and how to do it (even when you don’t want to)

Photo by  Tim Mossholder  on  Unsplash

At Skip the Small Talks, we ask attendees to have compassion for others and for themselves as they try out new ways to hold conversations. It’s probably obvious why we care about people having compassion for each other at an event where strangers are getting to know each other for the first time, but equally if not more important in that context is self-compassion. That’s because any attempt at change or improvement generally goes much more smoothly if you’re not beating yourself up after every setback. Connecting genuinely often requires taking some risks (like sharing things that feel a little vulnerable), and having compassion for yourself when those risks don’t pan out the way you hope can help you continue taking some risks in the long-term, and can help make the learning process easier for you in the short-term. Relatedly, studies support the link between self-compassion and resilience as well as psychological well-being and a ton of other positive outcomes. So having compassion for yourself is a surprisingly potent skill for handling setbacks, whether they’re related to a conversation you just had that didn’t go the way you’d hoped, or a new project that you wish had gone differently. So here are some concrete ways you can practice self-compassion whenever you notice you’re being hard on yourself.

  1. Remember that you deserve self-compassion no matter what; you don’t have to accomplish anything to deserve to be kind to yourself. In fact, the times when you feel unworthy of self-compassion are often the times you could benefit from it the most. So if you find yourself looking for reasons to avoid being generous to yourself, you might benefit from taking a few minutes to try at least one of the things below. And if you don’t go through with it for any reason, that’s also okay! You can even give yourself compassion about not giving yourself compassion.

  2. Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend. Think about someone in your life whose mistakes you’re generally willing to forgive or overlook. Once you think of someone, imagine what you’d say to them if they were in whatever position you were in right now. We’re often kinder to others than we are to ourselves, so taking a step back and seeing yourself as if you were someone else can help you treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.

  3. Focus on your strengths. Our brains our designed to focus more on negative or threatening things than on positive things. So, if you’re feeling down on yourself, you’re likely missing an important part of a bigger, more realistic picture. What positive things are you forgetting about yourself? If you’re having trouble coming up with some of your strengths, what nice things have people told you in the past? If that’s not working, it might help to hear some of your strengths coming directly from someone else-- try asking someone you trust what they like about you. It might feel a little uncomfortable to ask, but people generally LOVE answering this question. And you’re actually helping other people out by reaching out-- gratitude is associated with improved mood. So by asking someone to dig deep about why they’re grateful to have you in their lives, you’re actually helping them feel better, too. Don’t have anyone to turn to right now? That’s okay, too. You can call or text the Samaritans suicide hotline at (877) 870-HOPE (4673). They’re trained to listen, and you don’t have to be suicidal to call or text them. While a lot of people feel weird about reaching out to a hotline, it can be a great way to get out of your head when you’re being self-critical in a way that’s doing more harm than good.

Often the situations where we most need self-compassion are those in which it’s hardest to be kind to ourselves, and that can be frustrating. But it’s a process worth coming back to when you can. You might find it interesting to notice any changes in your interactions when you’re more compassionate to yourself. Let us know what happens if you do!