Practicing Self-Compassion: How to Give Yourself a Break

Self-compassion: Why is it so challenging for so many of us? We fail to be gentle with ourselves. We fail to care for our needs. We fail to give ourselves a break, even when we need it most.

We live in a society that values the “go, go, go,” and “higher, better, faster” mentality, and too often we fall prey to these messages that tell us not only how we “should” live, but also from where our value supposedly comes. We feel we can’t stop, slow down, or rest because if we do, then we won’t be _____ (fill in the blank–successful, liked, valued, good enough…).

It’s all a bunch of lies. I know it is, and yet, I fall for it too–believing I don’t deserve to stop and rest, feeling I have to “earn” a break, forgetting it’s self-compassion that’s the key to success in life, and not how much I do.


What is Self-Compassion?

There are many ways to define self-compassion.

First, it’s important to recognize that to have compassion means to have an awareness of suffering, in some sense. Thus, self-compassion must, by definition, also include an awareness of suffering–in oneself. Identifying this suffering and responding with love, kindness, and gentleness is the foundation of self-compassion.

Self-compassion researcher and author, Kristin Neff, has found self-compassion consists of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. In other words, to be compassionate with ourselves we must be mindful, understand we are not alone in our weaknesses and struggles, and practice being kind to ourselves, as we would do for others.

In general, self-compassion is thinking and feeling kindly about/toward ourselves. Self-compassion, along with self-kindness (doing nice things for ourselves), self-care (caring for our needs), and letting others’ love in, is a crucial element of self-love. Only with these four in place can we truly experience that love that makes us whole and complete, that says we’re good enough just the way we are, that leads to a true sense of self-worth. (Read more in my book Who Am I Without You?)

This is my take on self-compassion, but most importantly we must each find our own meaning in self-compassion, and what it looks like in our lives, if it’s to truly work in our lives. That’s what matters most.

Listen to “Self-Compassion: Give Yourself (& Your Kids) A Break,” with guest Kim Fredrickson, author and therapist of 30+ years, on Motherhood Radio/TV, for more on how to practice self-compassion, and how to teach your family to do the same.


5 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion Today

How can we think and feel more kindly about and toward ourselves? These five suggestions are a good place to start.

1) Pay attention to how you speak and think about yourself. Identify those things that aren’t: a) true, b) healthy, and/or c) helpful. When are you being too hard on yourself? When might you say something you’d never let someone else say to you? Write down everything you hear/discover. As we identify the harsh and unfair things we say to ourselves, we allow ourselves an opportunity to then change them.


2) Set aside time to examine your thoughts and feelings. Once you’ve done suggestion 1, look back at each item and ask, “Is this true? Is this healthy? Is this helpful? Is it what I really want to say to myself? Do I even believe this? This can help you understand which are underlying, or core, beliefs about yourself that might need to be changed**, and which are simply unhelpful thoughts or sayings you’ve picked up from others along the way. You may also use a Thought Record to identify your thoughts, if it’s helpful. (See “Thought Management, part 1,” and “Part 2: How to Use a Thought Record,” with videos, for help.)

3) Search for alternatives. Begin with the “easier” thoughts and ask, “What would my best friend, or closest family member, say about this?” Then, imagine what they’d say. Would they be as harsh as you’re being? Or would they give you the benefit of the doubt and help you feel better? If you’d listen to their good, compassionate advice for you, then why not listen to it from yourself? (Check out Kim Fredrickson‘s books, “Give Yourself a Break,” and “Give your Kids A Break,” for many ideas on compassionate things to say to yourself, and other tools.)


4) Write down all alternative, self-compassionate thoughts you’ve discovered and make a goal to use these throughout the day. It’s much easier to believe the compassionate things we say to ourselves once we’ve “proven” they’re true or at least have worked to discover them. Then, it’s all about practicing thinking kindly about ourselves, being gentle with our mistakes, nurturing ourselves through times of suffering, and giving ourselves a break. As we will begin to feel more compassionately toward ourselves, too.

Me, last week, practicing self-compassion with some much-needed sunshine and alone time at the beach.

5) In addition to working on thoughts, work on your feelings. On the flip side, as we practice FEELing self-compassion, we will think more compassionately about ourselves, too.

Sit in a quiet place and breathe deeply. Close your eyes and let your feelings come. What do you feel? How do you feel about what you feel? Do you feel comfortable with these feelings? Or do you feel like you want to run away from them? Do you feel guilty? Angry? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Sad? Grief-stricken? Depressed? Do you feel anxious? Worried? Stressed? As we identify the negative feelings and sit with them, breathing into them and focusing on them, we find they begin to dissipate, and over time, we learn to let them go. (Check out FEEL: How to Overcome Powerful Emotions, plus Video)

Having compassion with our feelings, and allowing them to simply “be” is essential to practicing self-compassion. Emotions come and we usually can’t control whether they show up and when, but we can control how we perceive them and what we tell ourselves about them. If we’re fighting the emotions or telling ourselves we’re “weak” because of what we feel or “less than,” those feelings will simply intensify, and multiply.

We do ourselves no favors by being harsh when we’re feeling low. Instead, we must FEEL–Freely Experience Emotions with Love. As we lovingly sit with, focus on, and feel the emotions, we find they’re not as scary and powerful as we think. They are, in fact, simply emotions, and it’s what we do with those emotions that matters most. FEELing is the key to HEALing from painful emotions, and self-compassion is the key to FEELing.


Remember, Self-Compassion is, and must be a Practice

This is just a starting point. It takes daily, hourly, sometimes moment-by-moment practice to learn self-compassion, and only once we learn it can we model self-compassion and teach it to our children, family, and others. Don’t we want our children to be gentle with themselves, to feel the love in their lives, and to let the rest go?

Yes. And we must begin with ourselves. Gently. Kindly. Lovingly. Nurturing ourselves through the tough times, and celebrating ourselves through the good.


**NOTE: If you discover deep, long-held beliefs about how unworthy, unlovable, or incapable you are and can’t seem to find the compassionate response to these, or to your feelings, you’re not alone. It can be especially difficult to change the voices we’ve heard over and over so long in our heads, whether they’re others’ voices or our own. I suggest seeking help to work through these things, with a trusted therapist, psychologist, or faith counselor, who can help you in a deeper way. It’s work that’s worth doing, that’s one thing I know for sure.**



For more tips, skills, and tools, listen to Motherhood Radio here, on SoundCloudiTunes, or watch on YouTube!






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