Self-Compassion: Treating Yourself as You Would Treat a Friend

If your friend called you and told you that they had a bad day at work, would you scold them? Would you berate them for making mistakes? Or would you let them know that it’s okay and everyone makes mistakes?

On the contrary, instead of criticizing them for screwing up, you would probably reassure them that they could do a better job tomorrow.

We all know that we should be compassionate to our friends when they’re going through rough times. Yet, so many of us fail to display the same compassion towards ourselves.

Granted, self-compassion can be difficult to master. But learning the art of self-compassion can change your entire life.

Here’s what self-compassion is all about, why we’re often too hard on ourselves, and what it looks like to practice self-compassion each and every day.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Going back to the illustration at the outset, think about how you would treat a friend in need. You would likely be patient with them. You would perhaps think about how you could best comfort them and help them move forward. And you would let them know that they are not alone in their suffering—it’s a shared, human experience, and we all go through rough times.

But when we make the mistakes, we often tell ourselves that we are fundamentally flawed. And we often believe that we’re dealing with the issue as individuals, thinking that no one else would ever make those mistakes. We’re harsher with ourselves than with others!

Self-compassion means treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is struggling—with kindness and understanding.

Is Self-Compassion the Same as Self-Indulgence?

Sometimes, being a little self-indulgent is a good thing. For example, if you’ve had a long, busy week, there’s nothing better than taking a bubble bath and sipping a glass of wine.

But it’s important to understand that self-indulgence and self-compassion are two different things.

Self-indulgence can provide momentary relief and an escape from negative emotions. Self-compassion, in comparison, is about forgiving ourselves for our flaws and accepting ourselves for who we are. It’s more than a temporary remedy—it’s promoting a fundamental belief.

Why Is It Hard to Commit to Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion can feel elusive. But why are we so reluctant to extend the same kindness to ourselves that we give to our loved ones? This reluctance is generally a result of pervasive cultural messages.

We often hear that when times are hard, we should just “tough it out.” We’re also taught that the only way to achieve big things is to “push yourself” past your breaking point. These damaging and untrue messages can discourage us from practicing self-compassion.

When Should We Practice Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion isn’t just important when you’re going through a rough patch. You should actually make it a point to practice self-compassion all of the time.

Of course, when things are going well, it’s easy. But that’s also the time when you need to develop and practice self-compassion in view of hard times. Then, when you come up against an obstacle, it will be easier to remind yourself what you’re really worth.

What Does Self-Compassion Look Like?

Self-compassion in action will look a little different for everyone. Perhaps you favor practicing meditation and mindfulness to focus on what’s important, rather than being distracted by negativity. Maybe you like writing in a journal to give yourself space to vent, instead of ruminating on your mistakes. Or maybe you prefer reaching out to your loved ones when you need help instead of trying to “tough it out.”

Everyone’s journey towards self-compassion will be unique. And remember, not comparing yourself to others is also an act of self-compassion.

Are you trying to work on being more self-compassionate? Do you feel like you’re constantly facing obstacles and making little progress? Sometimes, hearing a new perspective from a qualified therapist can help you turn things around.

If you’d like more information about how we can help you practice self-compassion, please feel free to reach out.

Author: Priyadarshani (Priya) Loess, Ph.D.

Priyadarshani Loess, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist at Portland Psychotherapy. Priya specializes in working with adults who have experienced sexual assault, as well as who have depression, social anxiety, and health anxiety.

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