What if I told you that there is only one act of self-care you really need to take care of your own mental health?
And it doesn’t involve any purchases. Or putting on any workout clothes. Or saying any empty words of affirmation to yourself.
What if I told you that there is one form of self-care that can be learned in an instant, applied at any moment, and is also completely free.
Would you believe me?
Well my friends, it exists! And over the years, it is the one self-care practice that has had the most powerful impact on my mental health and wellbeing. Hands down.
And that would be practicing self-compassion.
The first time that I was confronted with the idea of self-compassion was in my own therapy.
It was going through a rough patch, to say the least. I was being strung along by a guy. And I felt terrible about my appearance after chopping all of my hair off. I also got rejected from a job I interviewed for. To sum it up, I was suffering. A lot.
My therapist at the time asked me, “what would you say to a friend who was going through something similar?”
And my answer was something like, “It makes me sad to know you’re going through all of this. I wish there was something I could do to make it better. What you look like, the job you have, and your relationship status don’t matter to me. I still love you. I know things are hard right now, but I’m here for you.”
Then he then asked me if I could somehow apply those words to myself. I was immediately floored.
Saying kind words to a friend is easy! But to myself??? NO WAY.
I tried it, and it didn’t quite click. I felt skeptical. Directing those words towards myself didn’t feel natural. Yet I had to admit, there was a spark of something that definitely felt better than the constant criticism and shame I was suffering through.
In that moment, a seed was planted. And over the years, if I noticed myself suffering emotionally, instead of shaming myself or criticizing myself for the way I felt, I intentionally tried to practice self-compassion towards myself instead.
Dr. Kristin Neff, who is a pioneer researcher in this area of psychology, describes self-compassion as having 3 core components:
- Being able to relate to yourself kindly. To encourage, embrace, and empathize with yourself.
- Reminding yourself of your common humanity, A.K.A it’s okay to be imperfect – YOU’RE HUMAN!
- Practicing mindfulness; being in the moment, and validating yourself and your experience as it is, without trying to force anything.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, if it were, then many of us would be moving through our days with more peace of mind, and a deeper sense of ease and wellbeing.
To get started with practicing self-compassion, first become aware of what it is that you’re saying to yourself or thinking about yourself. Next, ask yourself:
- What would I say to a friend?
- What can I do or say to myself that will help right now?
- How can I be more kind and open-hearted to myself in this moment?
You can also check out Kristin Neff’s book on self-compassion to delve more deeply into this very important area of self-care.
Self-compassion feels like giving yourself a warm, gentle hug. It’s letting yourself feel what’s real for you, and knowing you’re there to take care of yourself. It’s learning to accept your flaws and mistakes, or at least try to. And it’s trusting the inner wisdom that exists inside of you in order to heal.
The best part about self-compassion is that over time, it will help you to cultivate a more stable sense of self-worth. So whether you get that workout in or don’t, or whether you’re hired for that position or passed over for someone else, or whether that guy texts you back or he doesn’t, you can always count on self-compassion as a practice to help you move through your experience.
And, if you struggle with practicing self-compassion, all hope is not lost. Going to therapy is a great way to learn to care for yourself in this way.
So, what do you think about this form of self-care?
What is it like for you to practice self-compassion, and be kinder towards yourself?
Does it come easily or take some getting used to? What are some situations where you want to try and practice this more?