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Self-compassion – how to put it into practice

Community Manager

compassion.jpeg

This article was written by one of our SANE Forum Moderators - @Tortoiseshell 

 

You’ve probably heard the phrase “be kind to yourself.” Perhaps when you were going through a tough time or someone heard you being especially hard on yourself. But what does it actually mean? Having a bubble bath? Gagging that self-critical voice? For those who find this concept a bit mysterious, we’ll talk through how to put self-compassion into practice. 

 

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is a loving and caring feeling that arises in response to our own suffering. It reduces our ‘threat’ system and stress hormones and activates the systems associated with love and bonding. This increases feelings of safety, security, and connectedness. Long-term this has benefits for mental health issues and stress. Kristin Neff has written and taught extensively on self-compassion, and put a real spotlight on how to apply it in everyday life. In practice it has three elements:

 

Mindfulness: We mentioned self-compassion is a response to our own suffering. This means we have to be present to some extent with our suffering for feelings of compassion to arise. That’s where a mindful attitude comes in. It helps us observe the pain without resisting it or letting it become the whole story of who we are.

 

Recognising the common humanity of pain and suffering: Often when we suffer we feel isolated, feeling that we are the only one to make mistakes, fail, or feel pain. Recognising our common humanity means acknowledging it is human to suffer. This increases feelings of connectedness and reduces self-criticism.

 

Kindness to self: When times are tough, we often criticise or berate ourselves. Self-kindness is treating ourselves in a way that is kind, supportive, and caring. Imagine your response when a friend is suffering. Chances are you say kind words or offer some help. Self-kindness is applying this response to ourselves too.

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Self-compassion exercises

Self-compassion is a skill that can be learnt. Here are a few exercises to experiment with:

 

  • Journal self-compassionately: Write down something you are struggling with at the moment using the elements of self-compassion (something not too painful to start off with). Mindfully label what you are feeling, also noticing where you are being critical of yourself, or where you are building up an upsetting story: “See, I knew it, I am a failure!” Then notice if you are feeling isolated in this struggle? Can you remind yourself of how this is a human experience? Lastly, write yourself some kind and supportive words that you would give to someone you care about: “I’m sorry you’re going through this, I care about you, I want to support you.”

  • Again, write down something minor you are struggling with at the moment. Then imagine that a friend you care for has written this. What would you say to them? How would you support or encourage them?

  • Try the inverse of this – in response to what you have written, imagine what a really supportive person in your life would say to you. They can be a person from your past, present, or a figure in your faith.

  • Ask yourself, “what do I need right here, right now?” This is a way of tuning into your own needs like a supportive person or parent would do.

  • Try a self-compassion meditation on insight timer.

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Know your limits

For some people, it does not feel safe to be self-compassionate. For people who have experienced trauma, a lack of safety, or very distressing experiences, these practices can highlight how difficult conditions were in the past or are right now. For some, being tough or ‘self-critical’ might have been learnt or role modelled as the only way to get by in the world, so trying out self-compassion might feel unsafe and threatening. 

 

It’s important we pay attention to our limits in trying out self-compassion exercises. It is normal for it to feel a bit uncomfortable, as for self-compassion to work we have to be present with suffering. Pay attention to your body, thoughts, and feelings, and whether it feels manageable. If it is overwhelming, step away and do something practical and grounding like petting an animal, getting a drink, or going for a walk. You can always come back and try again.

 

If self-compassion exercises feel overwhelming

  • Any activities that meet your needs are a good substitute – walking the dog, getting outside, listening to music, having a cuppa, or seeing people you trust.
  • Explore mindfulness, yoga, or breathing exercises that help you feel more comfortable being present with emotional pain.
  • Get support from a counsellor, psychologist, or mental health professional. Ask them about self-compassion.
  • Experiencing a compassionate therapeutic relationship with your mental health professional can also be a way of developing self-compassion.
  • If you are struggling with isolation, check out our online mental health forum to connect with others concerned about mental health issues.

 

Keep practicing

Self-compassion is a skill and one that definitely doesn’t come naturally for a lot of us. However, with practice, self-compassion provides a source of inner strength that can support us through tough times and help our mental health in the long term.

 

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19 Comments
Contributor

Thank you nashy.  Find it so difficult to be self-compassionate.  Difficult to practice mindfulness, but it helps when I do.  Not very good at it.  

 

I will start the practice.  Need to feel ok about myself.  Struggling on my own with adult daughter schizophrenia.  

 

Kind regards, Climatechange x  

Community Manager

Hey there @Climatechange I am sorry to hear of this struggle with self compassion. You're not alone here, you're amongst friends and peers who can listen if you need. I hope some of the tips helped, and please feel free to let us know how you and your daughter are travelling in the carers forumHeart

Community Guide

Hi @Tortoiseshell @nashy 
Thank you very much for posting this blog as it is something I do struggle with. My MH worker is always telling me to be kind to myself and to do things for me but I find it very hard to do in my own life due to the things that is life. Journaling is something I try to do in the form of writing things down that are causing me issues or if I'm feeling that I can't express myself through talking vocally and I find that writing helps. I tend to feel a lot calmer knowing that the problem is out of my head and I like that I can review what I have written at a later time. 
Once again, thank you @Tortoiseshell for putting this blog up. 

 

Community Guide

An excellent article, one to read and re-read often. Thank you, @Tortoiseshell  Smiley Happy

Moderator

Hey @Judi9877, I'm so glad to hear this could be helpful for you. It is definitely something many of us struggle with! Thanks for sharing what journalling does for you, it sounds like a very powerful tool for you already. Please let us know how you go adding any self-compassion elements, if you do that and also feel comfortable sharing🌻

Community Manager

@Tortoiseshell 🌼🌼🌼 Heart

Senior Contributor

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New Contributor

Hi everyone,

 

I agree that we all need to know how to be kind to ourselves, this is a benefit for our own mental well-being. I understand it's hard to practice it or convince ourselves in some times.

I start this statement when I'm acting so bad or hush to myself, that statement provides me with calm inner power. "Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself if you make mistakes. Life's biggest challenge is not about overcoming yourself, but learning how to be with yourself." , "This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of LIFE. <HUG yourself> May I be kind to myself at this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need."

Last, "Trust yourself, you've survived a lot, and you will survive whatever is coming." And this little bit, "I don't think people realise how much strength it takes to pull your own self out of a dark place mentally. So if you've done that today or any day, I'm proud of you."

Moderator

@Darcy that diagram is fantastic ❤️️

 

@SummerSmiley welcome to the forums and thank you so much for sharing that! Those phrases would be so helpful for many, but also sound tailored for you personally. I love how you bring your body/touch into it with a hug 🤗 When I remember to do that I try holding my own hand, everyone must have something that works for them. 

 

Please everyone feel free to jump in with any tips or tools you'd like to share on this 🌻

Contributor

I'm not very good at being self-compassionate cause was so used to being with people who so criticised me for everything I did wrong, it felt like I couldn't do anything right. It will take me some time to work on getting better at this.

Moderator

@JoJo173, that's awesome self-knowledge you have. Do you find it helpful having an idea where that self-critical attitude to yourself comes from?

Senior Contributor

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Contributor

@nashy Thank you for this information.  So good to read and be reminded that self-care is important.   So difficult to put me first.  Its easy to think your value comes from doing things for others, but doing things to help look after me is so hard to do.   

Really appreciate this information.  Thank you 

Community Manager

Hey there @Nancy1 Yes it's interesting that society teaches all of us to find our worth in our service to others. A part of that is quite beautiful, but our own inward compassion has to come first and foremost Heart That gentle kindness for no reason other than we deserve it as human beings. I am glad you got something out of the information and thank you for posting today, are there any practical strategies you find helpful in exercising self-compassion?

Senior Contributor

@nashy 

This article was very interesting. Thank you 😊 

Community Guide
Contributor

Thank you @nashy  for sharing this really helpful info! I'm going through a module about this with my counsellor & what I'm reading is very similar to what you've shared. I don't know why we didn't learn about this whilst we were younger? Maybe we didn't want to look feeling sorry for ourselves? I realise self pity is a real trap if anyone is stuck in this. Like self criticism, self pity doesn't help at all. Anyone else battling with being self compassionate, keep trying & pushing through. You will get there!🤗 

Senior Contributor

Thank you jojo173 for your post. I am struggling with self loathing and self criticism at the moment. I will put everything I have learnt from reading the other posts into practice.

Senior Contributor

Thank you nashy for your blog and your words of wisdom. I will apply it to my daily life. I have only just started seeing a counselor, I'm hoping she can help me too.