The road to self-compassion
By Dr Erlend Slettevold (Clinical Psychologist)
The idea of being kind to others is something we hear about so often nowadays, but what we don’t talk about as often is offering this same kindness to ourselves. In fact, when we look at the way some of us talk to ourselves sometimes, it would be described as anything but kind. We feel compassion when we see suffering in others and want to help them feel better, and self-compassion is the act of turning this kindness in on ourselves.
Self-compassion can help us get through difficult times and keep us moving forward in life even when things are hard. However, being compassionate to ourselves can sometimes be more difficult than we might think and we can so easily fall back into criticising ourselves.
We really hope this article will be helpful in providing some practical ways for you to be a bit more self-compassionate!
Ever felt self-critical?
One of the things we do sometimes is talking to ourselves in a way that puts us down. We tell ourselves things like “I am not good enough”, “it’s all my fault”, and “I always mess things up”. This can make us want to avoid things and keep being hard on ourselves. We may even think that we deserve to be criticised which can make us keep doing it while only feeling like things are getting worse.
Being self-critical can be tiring in the long run and it can be helpful to find ways to make a change. Change is never easy though, and it can feel unnatural at first. We may, for example, feel like being compassionate to ourselves is selfish or lazy, or that we do not deserve it. However, think about this example: you drop a cup of tea, and the first thought that comes to mind is ‘I’m such a useless person. I can’t even carry a cup of tea’. Then think about how you would react if someone you cared about dropped their cup of tea. Would you tell them they are useless to make them feel better, or would you support them by telling them it’s OK? It is important to remember that we all make mistakes and have our own difficulties, and that in difficult times or situations we need support and encouragement to help us get through them. We all need compassion at times and it’s important to try to be as compassionate to ourselves as we are to others.
How can we become more compassionate toward ourselves?
Well, we could start by taking steps to treat ourselves like someone we care about. We have broken this down into three steps:
1. Noticing when we criticise ourselves: This starts with noticing how we talk to ourselves in different situations. For example, if you drop a cup of tea, you may want to take a moment just to notice what you are telling yourself, or you may even want to write it down. You may notice that you already have some self-compassion and tell yourself that it’s OK as it happens to all of us sometimes. Or you may notice that you respond by criticising yourself in similar ways to those mentioned above.
2. Finding your compassionate voice: Once you have noticed how you speak to yourself, you could try to think about what you would say to someone you cared about if they dropped their cup of tea. You may want to write this down next to what you said first and compare.
3. Practicing self-compassion: When you have become aware of these two ways of talking to yourself, try practising talking to yourself as if you were someone you cared about. It can be helpful to take a moment when you notice self-critical thoughts and replacing these with more compassionate alternatives. This is not easy but with practice you can do it!
If you want to know more about compassion and how you can use it to improve your well-being, check out Paul Gilbert’s “The compassionate mind” or have a search on YouTube for videos about self-compassion, to help you develop a more self-compassionate mindset!