9 Of My Favorite Ways To Practice Self-Compassion
Self-criticism is easy. Many of us practice it all the time when we focus on lack, comparison, mistakes, what we are not, what we should be, what we can’t have, or don’t deserve. These critical and judgemental thoughts and feelings toward ourselves are actually violent and creating much more emotional pain than we think.
Developing more compassion for ourselves is much more than letting ourselves off the hook or just saying nice things. It goes beyond self-care or self-consoling. If you’re looking for practical ways to train yourself in building self-compassion, here’s a good place to start:
Sit In Awe:
If you’re finding it hard to be compassionate toward yourself and all you can think about is the mistakes you’ve made or the failures you’ve faced, sit outside for a moment or look outside from your windowsill and just observe. Take yourself outside of your internal shame or doubt for a minute by focusing on your surroundings. Stare at the tree outside your apartment for a moment, watch people in the park go by, listen to the rustle of squirrels, look closely at the flowers. Every time I sit and just watch the world around me, I’m reminded of the small things: the person who picked up someone’s hat and gave it back to them, the way the leaves are falling, the smile on someone’s face, the color of the grass.
One of my most important lessons on self-compassion has come from Daylilies. As an herbalist I have some practice spending time and learning the wisdom of plants. In one notable moment with Daylilies, I noticed the way in which a scattered half the bulbs were closed while the other half were in full bloom. In that moment I heard, “See that we do not compare ourselves to the other bulbs around us, we all open and evolve in our own time, so to do you” Compassion is learned through observation without comparison. Start observing, noticing, and ease up on evaluating. This will train you to not only stop judging situations and other people based on your old conditioning, but also to stop judging yourself.
Surrender your secrets:
A friend once asked me “ Do you think we need to disclose our feelings in order to develop greater self-awareness?” It’s certainly not the only method, but it helps. When we share our “secrets” with someone who can hold it with care, we feel seen. I don’t mean just sharing that one time we lied to a friend or stole from a convenience store, but actual feelings/thoughts/beliefs we feel really ashamed of or are scared to admit. When we share our shame, we are mirrored back to us a piece of ourselves we may not have seen in awhile. Usually, with the right person, we get a sense of relief that we’re not weird, crazy, terrible, evil, delusional, or anything else we may have convinced ourselves we were.
Desire Happiness Over Perfection:
How many times have you said to yourself, even subconsciously: “If I just finish X, then I’ll be happy.” “When I finally make X dollars, I’ll feel good about myself.” “When I actually become X, then I’ll be content” I call bullshit. I don’t care what you fill in the blank with, it’s a trick. A total and complete lie. Sure, some things like a new job or a big move or a new partner, can definitely enrich our lives, but they don’t control our level of happiness, especially not when we stress the hell out of ourselves trying to get it. I’ll just say it right now, I’m a perfectionist who was long in denial. I even used to say “Well not everything I do is nearly perfect at all, so I must not be a perfectionist” Of course, that’s the most incriminating thing I could’ve said. If you’ve ever said that to yourself too, you’re probably a perfectionist in hiding.
Here’s the thing, you can strive for the perfect life or you can rest, take your time getting there, and make sure that every step of the way you check in with yourself and ask “Am I happy?”. If the answer is “no”, that’s good! It means you get to re-evaluate. it doesn’t necessarily mean the goal needs to change, or that you need to change, perhaps just the way you’re trying to achieve it needs to change. I’m not saying that doing something for a specific outcome is wrong (e.g. going to school to get a degree, or working a certain job for money), but often we miss plenty of opportunities to make our lives a little bit happier by thinking things HAVE to happen a certain way. So what is the thing you’re telling yourself will make you happy? Why and how are you chasing it? What are you sacrificing to get it? Your health, sleep, freedom, autonomy, wellbeing? Is there something you can let go of to make the actual experience, the process of becoming/getting/doing it, a little bit easier?
When someone says “just breathe” you probably want to punch them in the face. I do too most of the time. But honestly, they’re not wrong. I’ve actually developed a whole host of health issues that went away when I started noticing how LITTLE I was breathing. How often do you take a deep belly breath? How often do you drop from your head into your belly and lower body? (Shoulders down, sigh, soften at the feet, etc). Do this every day and try setting an alarm on your phone reminding you to take deep breaths and settle back into your body throughout the day.
This one’s not actually literal, although changing posture may help too. What I mean is - stand tall and let yourself be seen by others. Similar to surrendering your secrets to trusted individuals, but on a larger scale. You don’t have to get up in front of an auditorium or sing on the streets, just think about something you wanted to put out into the world, and put it out there. It’s so easy these days with social media to be seen. Be one of the few who are actually putting out something that truly matters to you, that means something. I guarantee that if what you create comes from the heart, it will be valued by someone somewhere and you will feel good that you shared.
An easy way to feel self-compassion is to practice giving it. This can be a simple as voicing something we’re grateful for to someone else, or as difficult and complicated as finding and voicing empathy for someone who has deeply hurt us. It also means trying to understand where someone is coming from before jumping to conclusions, holding off on defensiveness as we discover what they’re feeling, and giving the benefit of the doubt even when we disagree. When we practice this, we learn little by little how to do this for ourselves.
Mistakes become strengths when we own them. Our “failures” hold less shame when we take full responsibility for our actions. So what is it that you still feel ashamed of? What haven’t you forgiven yourself for? Even if you can’t yet get to a place of total acceptance, can you own the one action? This just means saying to yourself “Yes, I did _____.” And keep it focused on a specific action, not a personality trait or personal “flaw”. Also keep in mind that owning our actions does not mean accepting responsibility for other people’s reactions, interpretations, pain, feelings, or anything else you do not have control over. Separate your action from their emotions. Your action may have been a stimulus for them, but you were not the cause, because we can never anticipate or control how someone feels. But once we own our actions, we can then address the outcomes or consequences that may have followed from a more grounded and centered place.
On that note, we can extend taking responsibility for not just our actions but our feelings and our pain too. What are your hot buttons? In what situations do you feel incredibly disgusted, furious, depressed, ashamed, at a loss, and other extreme emotions? It may be someone commenting on your appearance, being poor, being called a certain word, being in a certain location, someone being late, an sexist or racist comment toward you or others, etc. Again, someone else, the world, life circumstance, etc. may have been a stimulus for you, but most wounding that creates such a powerful reaction is OLD. It’s usually something that’s happened in the past, repeatedly, historically, or intergenerationally. It could be trauma that runs deep. Taking responsibility for your reaction/feelings doesn’t mean you’re to blame, the other person isn’t held accountable, or that your reaction is invalid. Just the opposite! It means you validate your reaction by diving into it, getting curious, feeling it, understanding it, and knowing that you’re honestly the only one who can shift it in this moment. We don’t have control over someone else’s behaviors - Your mom may not stop saying the thing that triggers you the most, even though she should. You may be stuck with debt for longer than you want, even though we live in a classist system that profits off your financial insecurity and...there are still things we can do from here. We don’t have to resign ourselves to the way things are right now, I’m a strong believer in social change, but we do have to start by acknowledging where we’re at since we can’t always immediately change our environment.
The one thing we can actually control is how we deal with our emotions. Some hot buttons are going to be more difficult than others, but when you come to a deeper understanding of why you feel how you do, it is much easier to set boundaries and make changes in your life. Deciding to take back as much control as you can through understanding and healing your triggers is one way to regain some compassion for yourself and feel stronger and better.
Be, not do:
Ever heard the phrase “You’re a human being, not a human doing”. Well, it’s true. And it’s actually hard not to have compassion for yourself when you’re just BEING with yourself, rather than scrambling to do something. Most of the time, we get mad at ourselves for failing to do, achieve, act, or behave in a certain way. What would happen if you stop for literally a second to focus on being. It’s something you literally can’t fail at, you’re doing it every second that you’re existing on this planet. Go back to being, right now, and feel what it’s like to just exist.
Now, pick just one of these to practice this week and let me know in the comments how it goes