How to Practice Self Compassion: Three Core Components

by Gayle N.L. Rodi, MA/IOP last updated -

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“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself as much as anybody in the entire universe deserves your love and affection”.
~ Buddha

When it comes to being kind and compassionate, we find it easier to be so with others than with ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up for every mistake, no matter how big or small. We frequently forget or not even consider that we too, deserve the kindness, understanding, and warmth that we so willingly give to others. Typically, we criticize and judge ourselves relentlessly for our insufficiencies and shortcomings, forgetting that our limitations are what make us human. Why are we so harsh with ourselves and how do we introduce the notion of self-compassion and bring it in our daily lives?

How to Practice Self Compassion?

The roots of self-compassion begin with Buddhist Philosophy but it was Dr. Kristen Neff, an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, Austin, who was the first to evaluate and put in place a definition of its concept. Neff’s work identifies the three core components of self-compassion, which shows us how to practice it in our daily lives. They include practicing self-kindness vs self-judgment, acceptance, and mindfulness. Let’s look more closely into each of the three core components.

A woman hugging herself with a smile on her face against a yellow background

Self-compassion will make you realize that you are not alone in your suffering. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Self-kindness as opposed to self-judgment

Western culture places great emphasis on being kind to others, but it fails to teach this lesson to us, individually. If we were taught this lesson early on, perhaps we’d have a healthier understanding of how to comfort ourselves and move past life’s hurdles without the overwhelming aggravation that often reveals itself during our own life’s transitions and difficulties.

This first core component is vital to understanding the importance of replacing self-judgment with self-kindness. This begins with one’s awareness to practice self-compassion by being warm, gentle, and supportive of ourselves, rather than being quick to judge ourselves for whatever we perceive as our current wrong-doing or mistakes, even made in the distant past. When we can recognize the difference between making a poor decision given the resources and knowledge we had at the time, only then can we begin the act of self-compassion and perhaps even begin the process of healing ourselves.

Healing begins when we take our newfound knowledge, insight, and awareness as a way to learn from past experience—- both positive and negative. Wouldn’t you like to replicate the good experiences and skip all the ruminating negative self-talk inside your head once and for all? This is what Dr. Neff’s message is to us, that suffering despair while blaming ourselves is both a fruitless and self-destructive thought process. This only serves to waste precious time and have a negative impact on your overall health and well-being. The good thing is, this is learned behavior. And whatever is learned, can be unlearned.

As The Co-Founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Dr. Neff seeks to educate others through simple, yet effective practices so we can live with greater clarity, understanding, and peace for ourselves and with ourselves.
People generally make decisions based upon the resources and knowledge they had at the time their decision was to be made. You may come to discover that you’ve placed unrealistic expectations on yourself in the past, but, no more. Whatever poor choices you may have made before your understanding of the concept of self-compassion has now elapsed. Let it go.

Remember the phrase- when we know better, we do better. These past errors that you may find yourself ruminating are now to be considered valuable life lessons. Consider this the wisdom that comes with having made both good and poor choices throughout your individual journey. How else do we learn to trust our intuition, test the waters, and have compassion for ourselves through all of our life’s trials and tribulations? Being aware, mindful, and present will further strengthen a person’s sense of self-worth. Strength will be your reward if you can practice this core component of self-compassion daily.

Acceptance

It is our innate nature to not want to make wrong decisions…..EVER, no matter how unreasonable that may seem.
Still, with that faulty reasoning in mind, this is often where our personal difficulties can become even more problematic, stressful, challenging, and complex than they were prior. Now is the time we need to draw our attention to our own internal monologue. Listen to how you speak to yourself. If you can start with this simple step of listening to yourself, you’ll quickly learn how to practice self-compassion with greater ease and consciousness.

Here, the keyword is acceptance. Accepting our own mistakes and finding compassion for ourselves despite the outcome is key to this process. This may be the single most important aspect of the entire concept of self- compassion—-.the recognition that being imperfect is what makes us human. Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.

Continuing along this process is the revelation that we’re all sharing in this human experience, albeit, our individual human experiences. It’s essential to understand the distinction between self-compassion and self-pity. Self-pity is a “woe is me” attitude, where people become so immersed in their own problems, they forget that others have similar problems, concerns, and worries. Self-compassion recognizes that we all suffer and this fosters a sense of connectedness and inclusivity.

A vector illustration of a woman or girl sitting, hugging her heart

Self-compassion entails being warm & understanding toward ourselves when we suffer. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Offering compassion to others makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s nice to feel needed, to know that we’re making a difference even if it is one individual at a time. If that is the case, then doesn’t it stand to reason that if we are compassionate towards ourselves, as well as others, we will feel greater reward, increased happiness, and improved quality of life. Because that’s exactly what the research shows.

Many times we come from a history that may have not have allowed for anything but perfection. Herein lies the root of why we may expect nothing less than perfection from ourselves. If that’s the case, recognizing this pattern and changing your mindset is going to be paramount to creating self-compassion in your own life. Comparing ourselves to others and their successes, while concurrently criticizing ourselves along the way is unproductive, self-deprecating, and carries negative energy that no one wants or needs in their life. This only serves to make matters worse, much worse.

In this instance, self- awareness is the key to change that mindset. When things haven’t gone exactly as we have planned for them, we can develop unreasonable and pervasive feelings, which, in turn, can leave us thinking that we are the only ones suffering while everyone else seemingly has it so much better than us. Self-compassion will make you realize that you are not alone in your suffering and despair and this is when you should reach out for support. Reach out for the support of a therapist or a trusted friend. Reach out to whomever you feel most comfortable sharing with.

Now, that we have already established that this is a human experience- it means that when you do choose to reach out to someone else, you’ll likely find understanding, compassion, and encouragement on the other end of your conversation.

Practicing Mindfulness

It’s most important to develop and maintain a balanced approach towards your negative emotions so that you neither suppress nor overemphasize your emotions and the feelings that come along with them. This is where mindfulness comes into the picture. When you become mindfully aware of your negative emotions and thought patterns, you will be able to gain clarity and look at them differently, gaining a better perspective and insight into your thoughts and subsequent behavior.

Simply stated- Don’t repress your emotions or deny your feelings. Be authentic and true to yourself. Feel your emotions and acknowledge that in doing so, you are already exercising self-compassion. Remind yourself- “This is hard. This is painful. This hurts. This is when I need to be most gentle and compassionate with myself.”

For more practices on self-compassion, do head over to our article on, What is Self-Compassion & Its Impact On Mental Health.

In conclusion

With regard to your mental, physical, emotional health and well-being consider it wise to incorporate the practice of the Three Core Components to Self- Compassion— daily, mindfully, and with intent. If you can make these core components a part of your daily routine, you can expect to lead a life that includes greater peace-of-mind, understanding of oneself, and increased fulfillment in what matters most to you.

Certain things may have been fated to happen but still, you have control over the ways in which you choose to react to them. This is when you can turn setbacks into triumphs. Once you have experienced this shift of consciousness you may come to discover that it can be empowering to let go of your inner critic.

Self-compassion is a step towards self-empowerment and with empowerment, you can create welcome and often massive transformation in your life. If this is the type of life you’ve been searching for, begin here, begin now— have compassion for yourself.

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About the Author

Gayle is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, Executive Coach, Consultant and Holistic Practitioner. Having personally coached and counseled others to live their best lives in the face of adversity, Gayle excels at mentoring and strengthening others. She eases the transitions of life’s most intense challenges all while firmly establishing resilience for greater personal growth, health, and achievement.

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