By Felix Blumhardt, PhD, LCSW

“Our task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

When is the last time you did something nice for yourself? Like many people, you may easily remember the last time you did something nice for someone else but struggle to recall the last time you did something nice for yourself. Our society values being kind to friends, family and neighbors. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore being kind to ourselves although caring for ourselves is essential for being able to care for others.

Self-care, along with self-compassion, allows us to build and sustain our resilience. This resilience ensures that we are the best version of ourselves. When the going gets tough, and it does, what do you tell yourself? If you think you are falling short of your own expectations or expectations that others have of you, what does your inner voice say? Any chance you have told yourself the following?

  • Get over it!
  • Put your big girl/boy pants on!
  • You should/shouldn’t have done …
  • I’m not worth it.
  • I’m an idiot.
  • I’m (fill in the blank with a self-critical statement).

When we hear messages from others or ourselves that are mired in negativity and criticism, frequently we berate ourselves. Already activated by these negative statements, we react by piling on additional negativity — negativity that we internalize. Rather than being kind or supportive to ourselves, we use harsh self-talk that we incorrectly believe will motivate us. Instead, it does the opposite and increases our self-negativity.

Self-compassion is a practice that allows us to develop resiliency. As Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer (2018) point out, “Through self-compassion we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy … With self-compassion, we learn to speak to ourselves like a good friend.” Self-compassion ensures that we are kind and supportive of ourselves, thus nurturing of our self-worth.

What is one method for practicing self-compassion? Self-compassion relies on one being mindful when one is critical of oneself and thus requires some detective work. As you practice noticing your thoughts and listening to your inner voice, pay close attention to what you say and how you say it. Are you patient with yourself? Do you say supportive and kind things to yourself? Does your tone reflect kindness and care? Once you learn to be on the lookout for negative thoughts and tone, consider how you might respond. Pretend you are speaking to a good friend. What would you say to her/him? How would you speak to her/him? Practice gentle responses that mirror understanding and care. Journaling and writing your negative thoughts, your initial responses, and your more thoughtful self-compassionate responses is a great way to practice self-compassion.

When we speak about compassion, we typically indicate that we feel compassionate. Think about a time that you felt compassionate. Did someone show compassion towards you or did you show it towards someone else? How did showing or receiving compassion feel? When showing compassion persons frequently describe it feeling like a “warm blanket” or a “cozy, soft sweater.” They describe a feeling of deep, internal comfort. As you practice modifying your internal voice to demonstrate self-compassion, recall these feelings. Be present with that feeling. Gently nudge yourself towards that feeling of warmth and internal comfort.

We are all works in progress. As you develop your self-compassion skills, consider that self-compassion takes practice. It takes commitment to push against our tendency to berate and/or diminish ourselves. Practicing self-compassion as we develop our own self-compassion is the perfect opportunity! Give self-compassion a try — you have nothing to lose!

Reference: Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.