Between distorted beauty standards, toxic diet culture, and the judgmental world of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in a negative cycle of comparison and self-criticism. Unfortunately, we tend to be our own harshest critics, holding ourselves to impossible and unrealistic standards that leave us feeling inadequate and unworthy when we (understandably) fall short. This relentless pursuit of perfection not only affects our mental and emotional health, but ironically, it also hinders our happiness — the very thing we’re aiming to achieve.
If this sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. The sad truth is that an overwhelming amount of adults and adolescents struggle with negative self-talk and body image struggles. However, thanks to the powerful practice of self-compassion, we can break this cycle and transform our lives.
Read on to learn what self-compassion is, its benefits, and how to practice it. Even (and especially) if you’re stuck in this negative cycle, don’t lose hope! By implementing these strategies into your day-to-day routine, you can embark on a journey of self-love and self-acceptance for a happier and healthier you.
What is Self Compassion?
But first, what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is the act of treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially in times of difficulty or when we make mistakes. It involves acknowledging our flaws and imperfections without judgment, and extending the same compassion and care to ourselves that we would offer to a friend or family member struggling.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in the field, describes self-compassion as comprising three core components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
According to Dr. Neff, self-kindness involves responding to our own pain, failures, and flaws with warmth and understanding instead of judgment and self-criticism. Common humanity reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles; suffering and imperfection are universal experiences. And lastly, mindfulness entails being present in the moment and observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment.
Now that we understand what self-compassion is, let’s talk about the benefits.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
- Enhanced mental and emotional well-being
- Reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress
- Improved self-esteem and emotional resilience
- Enhanced motivation to learn and grow
- Deeper connections and healthier relationships with others
- Increased understanding and acceptance of our true self
- Increased happiness and satisfaction
- Improved overall well-being
With this new-found knowledge, let’s explore how to incorporate this transformative practice into our lives.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
#1 Cultivate Self-Awareness
The first step in self-compassion is cultivating a sense of self-awareness. Start by paying attention to your inner voice and all the moments where you engage in self-critical thoughts or behaviors. How do these thoughts make you feel? Notice the triggers, patterns, and situations that lead to these thoughts. Now, consider how it would feel to reframe them with positive thoughts and self-compassion.
#2 Challenge Self-Criticism
Take your self-awareness journey a step further by actively challenging any negative thoughts. When you catch yourself being self-critical, pause and ask yourself if you would speak to a friend in the same way. Then ask yourself if there is even evidence or validity behind your thoughts. Often, our negative self-perceptions are based on distorted perceptions, assumptions, generalizations, and past negative experiences. It’s important to challenge and examine these thoughts — they may not even hold true!
#3 Question Societal Standards
Between social media and modern-day societal standards, it’s easy to get caught in the comparison trap. But, question those unattainable beauty ideals and narrow definitions of success and worthiness. The next time you catch yourself spiraling, remind yourself that the images we see in the media are often heavily edited and unrealistic. Instead, redefine success based on your personal goals and values and embrace the aspects of yourself that deviate from societal norms. See them as sources of strength and beauty, and celebrate your individuality!
#4 Set Realistic Goals & Expectations
Drop the need to be perfect; instead, adopt a mentality of progress over perfection. Not only is it more attainable and sustainable, but it opens up the door for increased growth, learning, and self-acceptance. Fall back in love with the learning progress, and remember that mistakes and setbacks are our biggest teachers! Plus, perfection is unattainable. Think long-term; the journey is more important than the destination.
#5 Practice Gratitude
What would it look like to appreciate all the incredible things your mind and body does for you? Even when faced with setbacks, challenge yourself to practice gratitude and look for the lessons or growth opportunities. By doing so, you’ll begin to shift your focus away from self-criticism towards one of self-compassion and self-acceptance. As an added bonus, not surprisingly, gratitude has been shown to boost happiness and increase mental health!
#6 Surround Yourself With Community & Support
Take a quick inventory of your friendship circle and those you spend the most time with. Do you feel supported? Loved? Appreciated? If you said yes, great! Continue building this positive network. If you said no, it may be time to reevaluate your relationships. When it comes to cultivating self-compassion, it’s so important to feel supported. Surround yourself with supportive and positive influences, and continue to seek out communities and individuals who celebrate and accept you for who you are.
#7 Curate Your Social Media Feed
Speaking of surrounding yourself with positivity, this includes your social media feed! Limit your exposure to social media, or consider doing a social media detox. Reevaluate the accounts you follow and remove or mute accounts (whether it’s brands, influencers, and even friends or family) that leave you feeling inadequate or less than. Instead, curate your social media feed to include accounts that inspire you, uplift you, and make you feel supported and heard.
#8 Prioritize Self-Care
Take a look at your planner or visually think about your calendar. When was the last time you did something for yourself? Now, think about how often you set aside or schedule time for self-care. Is this a priority for you? Or, does it take a back seat on your to-do list?
The reality is that in our “go-go-go” society, self-care often gets neglected. But, when it comes to cultivating self-compassion, self-care is crucial! In fact, the mere act of self-care is a form of self-compassion. When you prioritize self-care, you’re telling yourself that you’re deserving of care and nurturing. Plus, by taking the time to listen to your mind and body, you can better identify when you’re experiencing stress or burnout and take proactive steps to address it.
And when it comes to self-care, there’s no one-size-fits-all practice. Whether it’s a nightly yoga routine, a weekly spa day, or a mere 5-minutes of breathing in between clients or meetings, find something that fills your cup and works for you and your schedule.
Remember, it takes time and patience to cultivate self-compassion, especially if you’ve spent years being self-critical. So, be gentle with yourself throughout this process and celebrate each step forward, no matter how small! Use these tools to help guide you and remind yourself that there’s no “end goal.” Rather, this is a forever practice! As we ebb and flow through life, our self-compassion journey will likely have its ups and downs. Without a doubt, some days will be easier than others. But, keep at it! With practice, time, and consistency, you can break free from the cycle of negative self-talking and thinking. This is step one. Applaud yourself for making it this far!