How to Practice and Improve Your Self-Compassion

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  • Category: Experts, Mental Health
  • Read Time: 6 Minutes

How to Practice and Improve Your Self-Compassion

Self-compassion can be thought of as compassion that we turn towards ourselves. Particularly when we are in pain or when we are struggling with our mental health, self-compassion can be an important practice to manage our emotions. Self-compassion has three core components:

  1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment: treating and talking to ourselves with kindness and resisting the urge to harshly  judge or criticize ourselves.
  2. Common humanity versus isolation: considering our lives within the context of the greater human experience rather than as alone and separate from others. With self-compassion, we can see that pain and suffering are part of a normal human experience.
  3. Mindfulness versus overidentification: maintaining awareness of our thoughts and emotions in any given moment and intentionally not ruminating or over-identifying with them.

These three components all work synchronously to cultivate compassion toward ourselves and regulate our emotions over time (Neff, 2003). Self-compassion helps us to acknowledge and embrace anything that we perceive as less than perfect in our lives; after all, we cannot be expected to be perfect. Self-compassion can be thought of as a coping tool or mechanism that can help to get us through difficult times in our lives. Thankfully, there are many ways to practice self-compassion and in this article, I will introduce you to a journaling prompt to foster greater self-compassion. 

Stress and Self-Judgment
Stress can have all sorts of impacts on our lives. However, one that is not commonly discussed is the impact that stress can have on our own self-perception. Specifically, stress can bring out our inner voice, which loudly convinces us of the many things that we are doing wrong and/or reminds us of all the things that prompted the stress to begin with. Oftentimes, we tune out this critical voice because it gets in our way, causing us to lose touch with these deep thoughts and impacts us in very real ways. It can become a vicious cycle.

I know for myself, whenever I am particularly stressed or anxious and make a mistake or do something absent-mindedly, my inner voice often will chime in, asking me, “why are you so stupid?” This is something I would never say to someone else, regardless of what they have done. So why do I say it to myself? Years of self-exploration and my own experiences in therapy have helped me to identify this “why” and to learn how to respond with compassion. Simply knowing that this is my default helps me to be able to speak back to this inner voice (yes, I talk to myself) with kindness.

Self-Compassion and Stress
Self-compassion is significantly related to general well-being and has also been found to be an important intervention for reducing stress levels in our lives (Zessin et al., 2015). One study examined the effects of a 14 day self-compassion intervention on stress levels and eating behaviors. Participants who were assigned to the self-compassion intervention group experienced significant reductions in their perceived levels of stress and decreases in eating in response to anxiety (Schnepper et al., 2020). Therefore, we know that self-compassion may be an important tool for effectively managing stress in our lives. 

When I am practicing self-compassion, I will often use a guided form of loving kindness or self-compassion meditation. However, one thing that has been particularly helpful to me over the years has been journaling for self-compassion. I find that there is something calming about writing, and that it helps me to more deeply process my thoughts than I can do by myself. Writing down the thoughts and emotions simultaneously makes them real and also feel like they have less power over me. 

Self-Compassion Journal Prompt
Therefore, I encourage you today to practice journaling for self-compassion in your own life. Identify a predetermined period of time in which you can write (10-20 minutes). Then, find a comfortable place where you can sit and write in a journal, a notebook, or a scrap piece of paper. Take a moment to appreciate yourself for taking the time to do this for yourself and to fully commit to mentally and emotionally go through this journaling experience. 

  1. First, I want you to identify (and write about) three areas in your life which deserve your self-compassion. These could be identifying and recounting specific events in your life where you were highly self-critical and judgmental or could be examples of your own inner voice and how this impacts you.
  2. Next, write about ways that you could approach these three areas with more self-compassion (think back to the three core components identified above). Try to write to yourself how you would write to a friend you genuinely care about.
  3. Lastly, write about what life might be like if you were able to regularly practice this self-compassion. What would be different both in the moment and long-term? How would you interact with the world?

Taking the time to journal about your own life can be an incredibly powerful tool. What was your experience like in doing this activity?

Written for Fitness Blender by Haley S, PhD
Licensed Psychologist

References

Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self‐compassion in clinical practice. Journal of clinical psychology, 69(8), 856-867.

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and identity, 2(3), 223-250.

Schnepper, R., Reichenberger, J., & Blechert, J. (2020). Being my own companion in times of social isolation–A 14-day mobile self-compassion intervention improves stress levels and eating behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2645.

Zessin, U., Dickhäuser, O., & Garbade, S. (2015). The relationship between self‐compassion and well‐being: A meta‐analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 7(3), 340-364.