We talk a lot about self-care, but self-compassion is a little different and one that often gets merged into the role of self-care. From my experience wandering around the internet, many people associate self-care with looking after their physical and mental wellbeing, but self-compassion goes a little deeper than that. I always imagine self-compassion to be more balanced, with an equal focus on the positive and the negative.

As humans, we inevitably do things that we see as a mistake, or we act out of a place of emotion and end up hurting someone else. Often, our minds will store this information and then when we least expect it, usually when you’re trying to get to sleep or you’re going about your day, your brain will chime in with a ‘hey remember when you did that thing and it was awful?’. It’s as if we’ve stored this information to punish ourselves at random. A sneak attack of shame if you will.

According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive — it’s not empathy alone — but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and lovingkindness
— The Importance of Compassion or Karuna in Buddhism

Being able to show yourself self-compassion means that you are able to see your failures, your mistakes and your pitfalls and be able to understand and accept, rather than punish and judge. We are our harshest critics, so when something goes wrong we always come down hard on ourselves. Somehow we think that if we do this, we’ll be less likely to make the same mistakes again, but what it really does is create a black spot on our emotional and spiritual selves. It chips away at our self-confidence and self-esteem. We essentially become our own bully.

This is why we have to actively teach ourselves self-compassion and be mindful of the compassion we show ourselves day-to-day. When we mess up, learn to take ownership and speak to yourself like you would if a friend made the same mistake.

Be mindful of internal narration

Being more mindful of your internal narration is a great start. Recognise the type of language you use when you speak to yourself or the way you form thoughts and beliefs. Being able to pull apart this inner dialogue can help us learn a lot about the subconscious and what’s going on down there. Plus, being able to actively identify when you’re being too hard or abusive to yourself is the first step in building a strong sense of self-compassion.

Lack of forgiveness causes almost all of our self-sabotaging behaviour.
— Mark Victor

You may have heard people say before, that you should speak to yourself as if you were speaking to a loved one, and it really is a powerful way to completely change the way you feel about yourself. Being able to have an open conversation with yourself, where you feel comfortable being 100% truthful and honest, makes you a much stronger person as a whole. It can help you identify toxic behaviours, not just in yourself but in others as well. Building self-compassion in turn builds wisdom.

Is a lack of self-compassion causing your current problems?

You’d be surprised how many times self-compassion is the answer to our biggest problems. Think your products are good enough to sell? You need more self-compassion. Struggling to book new clients because you don’t think you have the balls to send that pitch email? You need more self-compassion. Really want to take on a new hobby but don’t see the point if you’re not going to be good at it? You need more self-compassion.

You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
— Louise L. Hay

If you struggle to see yourself from the outside, especially if you’re completely consumed by your current situation, then there are a couple of tricks you can use to make self-compassion a little easier to grab hold of.

  • Reflect your situation, belief or thought onto someone you know. Imagine a friend or family member coming to you and saying the same things you’re saying to yourself. How would you respond?

  • If doing that with a friend or family member is still a little too close to home, try it with your favourite celebrity or fictional character.

  • Pretend you are someone else and write a letter. If you struggle to grasp your own emotions and see them objectively, pretend you are a fictional character writing about these same issues in a letter and address it to the real you. Then, read it back as yourself. How do you see things now?

  • De-catastrophise your thoughts. Often we make our mistakes seem bigger than they really are, so think about what the worst outcome was of those mistakes, or if you are in the midst of the fallout, what is the very worst that could happen. Be realistic, think about the real-life odds!