If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re a little more hard on yourself than you’d like to be. Showing compassion for others often comes easy, and more so to those we’re close with. Yet when it comes to the closest relationship we have of them all – the relationship with ourselves – we tend to be less understanding or forgiving of our missteps, while judging ourselves much more harshly than we do others.
We’re going to give you plenty of tips and inspiration on how to negate these behaviors, BUT before we get started, show yourself some compassion with a quick exercise that will help get you grounded and centered: Breathe in slowly, and breathe out deeply. As you exhale, make a point to get rid of anything that is bothering you or weighing on your mind right now. Truly tune in to the here and now as you get ready to take a couple minutes just for you. Perfect – now let’s dive in!
To have compassion means empathizing with suffering, and feeling compelled to reduce that suffering in some way. Generally we don’t like to see people suffer, and even less when it is someone that we care about or share a close relationship with. This might look like practicing random acts of kindness, sharing encouraging and uplifting words or advice when someone is facing hardship, or making time in a busy schedule to bond with family or friends. But when was the last time you did something nice for yourself just because, or coached yourself with motivating or uplifting affirmations, or allocated time in your busy schedule for recharging self-care? Probably longer than you’d like to admit, right?
If you’re not used to practicing self-compassion, it can feel awkward or even selfish when you start. Be patient with yourself as you work on developing this critical skill. It will take time to perfect, and that is okay! In fact, I encourage you to slow down and allow yourself time for real, honest introspection in order to determine how to be compassionate to yourself. After all, how can you be compassionate to yourself if you aren’t self-aware of what your needs even are? Spending some sacred time thinking about where you’re at and what you truly need will help prevent overwhelm as you adjust to this new habit. The steps below will help you prepare a road map for consciously strengthening and developing your self-compassion:
Road map to Developing Self-Compassion
Become aware of the clues your body is expressing. Our bodies can give great insight to our needs, even if we don’t always realize it. If you’re unsure where to start on determining your needs, look for changes in the way you physically feel for guidance.
Use the clues your body is expressing to develop a plan to decipher those clues and determine what you need to do with them. Use physical clues as a starting point to figuring out your mental and emotional needs, and what needs to happen next.
Adjust your attitude to achieve a neutral stance towards yourself. We know this is easier said than done, but having a non judgmental view of self is essential. Here’s a quick tip to help you keep yourself in check: When you catch yourself talking negatively to, or judging, yourself, think about whether or not you’d say those things to a loved friend or family member. If you would feel bad saying it to someone else, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t be saying it to yourself either!
Have patience and perseverance with your efforts. Just like any new habit or lifestyle change, you will probably experience discomfort, make mistakes, and become irritated throughout your journey to increase self-compassion. Change is hard, but not impossible! Be easy on yourself and don’t give up!
Incorporate healthy skills into your daily routine with repetition.Repetition has been proven to help implement new habits successfully, and it is no different when it comes to developing self-compassion. Practicing these changes continuously will make them become innate and easier to access on a regular basis.
Now that you have a basic idea of what you can reasonably expect during this journey, let’s dissect each of these in greater detail to prepare you for success in strengthening and developing your self-compassion.
Here are 5 ways to be more compassionate to yourself!
1. Increase Awareness
In order to effectively foster compassion towards one’s self, the ability to recognize and develop self-awareness is paramount. Listen to your body and notice what it is telling you. The body emits cues that are often missed, and may manifest as pain, pleasure, or a variety of other experiences. Look at this information as data: are you getting too much or not enough of this data? Oftentimes, we are too flooded with emotion to understand what is happening (or we ignore it altogether!). When we fail to recognize these cues or miss the triggers being signaled by our bodies, we go from being in balance to chaos pretty quickly.
What is your body trying to communicate with you? Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? “HALT” is a very common therapeutic mnemonic device to help identify what is off-kilter. Another way is to simply stop, close your eyes, and ground yourself, and then attempt to connect with what your body, mind, or spirit are communicating to you. Consider both internal and external factors, how they may be contributing, and whether or not they’re in your control. For example, if you are starting to feel annoyed when around people in general, it may be time to take a step back and engage in some self-care and/or healthy alone time!
2. Develop Understanding
After we spend some time listening to our internal noise and gaining awareness of our basic needs, we can begin to develop some understanding. Many liken this to peeling back layers of an onion; a fitting analogy as we, as humans, are very complex. At this point, it’s important to take some time to deconstruct why your body may be giving you certain cues, explore common thoughts, and connect with your feelings. If you struggle with doing this on your own, talking with a therapist is an excellent place to start. Therapy can be used to further enrich our understanding of the who, what, where, when, and why’s of what makes us the person we are today.
As we become better detectives in identifying what we need to be okay at the most basic level, and have accepted that information as fact, it is time to kick it up a notch by peeling back the deeper layers of our onion such as values, ideals, and morals. Sometimes we seek to understand things that cannot be explained, or we want a black and white explanation for those things that are in the grey. It is common (and even natural!) as humans to fear the unknown or experience one or more existential crises throughout our lives. Exploring these layers allows us to deepen the relationship and understanding we have with ourselves. That’s a beautiful thing in and of itself! As an added bonus, learning more about who we are and what makes us tick allows us to further strengthen our self-compassion as a result.
3. Develop a Non-Judgmental Attitude
No good can come from poorly judging yourself. It serves only to poison your opportunities and turn them into emotional, mental, and/or physical barriers instead. Developing radical acceptance of one’s self is a big component to building self-compassion. That saying, “it is what it is” applies here.
What is in the past is in the past. It is certainly true that your past and all the experiences it held impact who you are today. However, when we get stuck in the past (or the future), we ruin our opportunity for developing self-compassion and typically end up experiencing anxiety or depression instead. Further, a poor attitude becomes more likely to evolve into a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will always have negative results. Negativity compounds on top of itself until we feel quite literally smothered by it. The good news is, this works in reverse. If we give our all when attempting to implement positive changes or habits, it is more likely that the outcomes will be very positive, even if you’re only taking small steps towards your goals. Small steps forward will always get you further than no steps at all!
Here’s a great metaphor to help put this into context: think about driving a car. When you drive the car, you want to check the rear-view mirror (the past) to make sure you know what is back there. However, when we drive we do not only look at the rear-view mirror (the past), otherwise we would crash (potential mental breakdown or other negative consequences of focusing on the past). The same is true when you’re only looking ahead. If we are driving a car and looking ahead (the future), but otherwise unaware of our other surroundings, (behind us – the past, and around us – the present), then we are likely to get in an accident as well.
Much like driving a car, the key to a healthy attitude in favor of building self-compassion is to have a healthy relationship with not only your present self in the here and now, but to also have a healthy relationship with the past and future. When driving the car we want to “scan” by looking forward, at the rear-view mirror, and the side mirrors. When you “scan” life, you are able to let thoughts float in and out about the past, present, and future and not let them ruin your day.
This is a level of functioning that helps one thrive instead of just survive. To work on self-compassion, one must achieve a balance with past, present, and future in order to develop an attitude that is fit for making changes towards self-love.
4. Accept that Change is Difficult, but Not Impossible
Looking at universal experiences as examples are often helpful in understanding newer concepts, such as taking steps to becoming more compassionate towards yourself. Therefore, let’s look at a physical example of increasing body awareness and how the brain and body connect in a way that impacts an immediate effect.
When a stove is hot and you pull your hand away, the pain is a signal that something is wrong. It helps us react and pull our hand away. We also tend to learn from painful or negative experiences so that we don’t do them again. HOWEVER, in life sometimes these thoughts, behaviors, or feelings are so ingrained in us that we have difficulty becoming aware of them.
A wise colleague shared a beautiful metaphor with me. He stated that the patterns that develop in our brain over time become so familiar that change is difficult and uncomfortable. Think of the olden days where people would have horses pull covered wagons. If an old wagon on the Oregon trail tried to pull out of the trenches made by SO MANY wagons before it, this would be very difficult and potentially problematic. Trying to veer off the track here symbolizes how it is difficult to change at first. For the wagon, there is not yet a path where it is trying to go. For our thoughts, we are comfortable with our thoughts even if they are not productive.
Paving new pathways, aka change, requires you to try new things. It’s our duty to figure out if we are ready and willing to make the changes that promote self-compassion. If your way has not been supporting you in strengthening or developing your self-compassion, I encourage you to accept the challenge of trying something new!
5. Practice, Practice, Practice!
It is important to practice skills when you do not need them so that they come naturally when you do need them. The idea is to generate a box of tools that help you lengthen the tolerance of negative experiences so that it takes a longer time to get into crisis mode. Tying it all together: awareness, understanding, and attitude require change and consistency to stick.
You WILL make mistakes. A couple famous Alcoholics Anonymous quotes that really apply here are, “nothing changes, if nothing changes” as well as “make different mistakes”. Try a few different types of awareness-building techniques, challenge your attitude, give yourself more grace, and be gentle to yourself as you move towards changing your views towards yourself. Use your thoughts, emotions, and body experiences as cues that can give you data. The choice of having a good day is yours. Finally, empower yourself to identify, feel something, and then choose to let it go. If you aren’t willing or ready to let it go, then it’s your job to come up with a solution by changing your thinking, behaviors, feelings, or by seeking help externally.
Remember, developing and strengthening self-compassion is a journey. There will be bumps and challenges along the way, and that is okay! Be kind to yourself and patient through the process. Keeping these 5 tips in mind will help you improve your self-compassion and make lasting, positive change in your life!
If you are experiencing challenges developing self-compassion or want help enriching your understanding of your true self, Solid Foundations can help! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!