You’re compassionate with others, but why does it seem like such a struggle to be kind, loving, and compassionate with yourself? The simple truth is that many of us struggle with self-kindness and self-encouragement, and we live lives that are more stressful and less fulfilling because of this.
That’s why learning how to practice self-compassion is so vital; it can enhance the quality of your entire life.
In this post, you learn what self-compassion is, how it’s related to self-love and self-worth, and why self-empathy matters. I’ll walk you through the five levels of compassion and introduce you to 11 ways to cultivate self-compassion starting today.
You’ll also learn how to give up the self-judgmental and self-critical habits you’ve been clinging to, plus how and why you need to start practicing self-compassion affirmations.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered medical advice nor used to diagnose or treat medical conditions; if you need professional help, please seek it. Also, this post contains both affiliate links featuring recommended resources from which B&C might receive a modest fee and non-affiliate links. Learn more.
Table of Contents
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is a gentle and empowering way of relating to yourself, especially in times of difficulty, uncertainty, failure and loss. You are patient and encouraging with yourself, just as you would be to a dear friend or loved one going through a rough time.
Self-kindness, appreciation, self-acceptance and a self-loving nature are all hallmarks of a self-compassionate person.
Treating yourself with compassion allows you to acknowledge your suffering without judgment. Instead of being self-critical, you choose positive self-talk and practice optimistic thinking. You are also more likely to listen to your higher self or intuition, which is often a better life navigator than our thinking minds.
Self-compassion allows you to be fully present with your feelings, without judgment or criticism. It provides you with the comfort and all-important self-care you need and deserve,
Self-compassion is an essential element of a self-love practice.
Are self-worth and self-compassion connected?
Self-worth is a fundamental belief in your own value and dignity as a person. It’s about knowing that you are worthy of love, respect, and happiness simply because you exist. When your sense of self-worth is strong, you feel confident and secure in who you are, and you are less likely to be swayed by external opinions or validation.
People with a high sense of self-worth tend to be more self-aware and mindful of what’s happening in their lives. When you cultivate a high sense of self-worth, you learn to love and appreciate yourself just as you are. This makes you less prone to being self-critical and more likely to be self-compassionate.
What is self-empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand another’s feelings, allowing us to experience their emotions and perspectives as if they were our own. Thus, self-empathy is having a deeper understanding and acceptance of your own emotions that arise in difficult situations or circumstances.
The five levels of compassion
Researchers have determined there are five levels of compassion. The graphic below walks you through the five stages of compassion.
The first level of compassion is merely noticing that suffering is happening. You cannot be compassionate if you are unaware of the suffering in yourself or others.
The second level of compassion is understanding that suffering is universal; we all suffer at some point in our lives. That suffering can be self-inflicted, other-inflicted, or just a natural part of life. For example, death is a part of life, and most of us endure varying degrees of suffering when a loved one dies.
The third level of compassion is being moved by the suffering and motivated to connect emotionally to the person experiencing the pain; in the case of self-compassion, that someone is you.
The fourth level of compassion is getting semi-comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. That means tolerating the feelings instead of trying to avoid them, deflect them in some way, or disavow their importance. You don’t eat your feelings; you face them.
Compassion’s fifth and final stage is where you take action to alleviate the suffering. There’s no criticism or judging; there’s no avoidance, either. You kindly and gently step in to offer loving support.
If you want to practice self-compassion, it’s vital that you understand that each stage in the process is crucial. Depending on the type of suffering or pain you’re feeling, it may take longer to go from suffering recognition to acts of alleviation; be patient with yourself, as this is a process.
Cultivating self-compassion: 11 ways to practice self-compassion starting now
Practicing self-compassion can profoundly impact your emotional health and the quality of your life. Being understanding and gentle with yourself, especially in times of loss, struggle, or failure will reduce stress and anxiety while helping you lead a happier life.
Here are 11 ways to start practicing self-compassion today:
- Practice positive self-talk and avoid self-criticism.
- Surround yourself with supportive and positive people.
- Cultivate gratitude; try starting with 30 days of radical gratitude.
- Adopt a mindful lifestyle; be more present and less worried about the past or future.
- Give yourself time to feel your emotions, reflect on them, and process them.
- Write down affirmations and positive self-statements (try these self-love affirmations)
- Participate in activities that are fun and fulfilling for you.
- Let go of perfectionism and embrace your imperfections (read: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown)
- Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist.
- Practice self-forgiveness.
- Visualize yourself as a loving and supportive friend.
While you need to practice self-compassion when undergoing tough times, that’s not enough.
Life has a way of throwing a lot of curve balls at us every day. Many of us have developed the go-to habit of self-judgment rather than self-love when life gets complicated, is stressful, or feels unfair. That’s why you’ll benefit most by incorporating compassion into your daily routine.
Giving up the self-judgy, self-critical habit
If you grew up around people who were hyper-critical of themselves and others, you might have picked up some pretty bad habits, including an inner voice fluent in self-judgment and self-criticism. If this type of self-talk is your go-to, you may benefit from talking with a therapist who can help you walk through issues that may be far more complicated than you can go through on your own.
One of the reasons some of us tend to be so self-critical is that we really don’t have a high sense of self-worth. It’s time to stop listening to the “I’m not good enough” voice and rethink how you see yourself. It’s time to focus on how awesome you truly are. One strategy for this is to focus on your strengths instead of ruminating on your weaknesses or shortcomings.
Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton wrote a great book called Now, Discover Your Strengths. Check it out if you’re unsure where your strengths lie (most self-critical people have a little trouble figuring out their strengths).
I suggest making a list of your strengths and all you’ve accomplished in your life. Focus on these, reminding yourself of all the things you are good at and the things you have already achieved.
Engaging in physical activity can also help reduce self-criticism. Sounds off-the-wall, doesn’t it? But hear me out. Regular physical activity has been shown to boost self-esteem and reduce stress, both of which can reduce self-critical thoughts and behaviors. When you exercise, your self-pride blossoms, and people who are proud of themselves simply don’t spend time bemoaning their faults and shortcomings.
Affirmations can be a powerful tool for accelerating positive change in your life. When you change your thinking, you can change your life.
Affirmations are positive statements or phrases that you repeat to yourself to shift your thoughts and beliefs. When you use affirmations consistently, and with emotional oomph behind them, you may break old thinking habits that whittled down your sense of self-worth.
To get started, choose affirmations that resonate with you and repeat them to yourself daily, either silently or out loud. Consistency is key. Frankly, you might not believe the words in the affirmations you are reciting to yourself, especially at first. That doesn’t matter because the magic happens over time.
Set affirmations you want to believe in and repeat them frequently. In time, they will take root. Much like a seed that’s watered and properly nourished grows, so does the belief behind the affirmation.
I’ll be honest; affirmation work isn’t right for everyone. I was skeptical myself, but after working with affirmations for years now, I know they can be helpful. With time and practice, you may find that your thoughts and beliefs start to shift and that you feel more confident and positive about yourself and your life. So give affirmations a try and see how they can improve your life!
Here are a few self-compassion affirmations you might want to work with—or feel free to create others that resonate with you better:
- I lovingly choose compassion now
- I am enough, just as I am.
- I embrace my imperfections.
- I lovingly release self-criticism.
- I am filled with self-compassion.
- I lovingly release self-judgment.
- I forgive myself now.
- I know I’m strong enough and smart enough.
- I give myself love and understanding right now.
Seven best books on self-compassion
If you’ve been criticizing yourself for years, it’ll take a while to embrace self-compassion on a regular basis. I highly recommend you set yourself up for success by immersing yourself in self-compassion tools and resources. I’ve added my seven favorite books on self-compassion below; be sure to explore the book that calls to you.
In Self-Compassion, highly acclaimed compassion researcher Kristin Neff teaches you the importance of being kind and gentle to yourself. You’ll learn how to overcome self-criticism, deal with negative thoughts, and leave behind the insecurities and self-doubts that have been holding you back.
In this bestseller from Tara Brach, you’ll learn all about RAIN – a mindfulness practice to cultivate self-compassion and compassion for others. Tara guides you on how to develop a deeper sense of connection and empathy for yourself and those around you.
Victoria Burshtein introduces you to give simple steps to cultivate self-compassion and overcome self-criticism. This book is specifically designed for women and addresses the unique challenges and cultural pressures that women face in their journey toward self-love.
This guide provides practical and accessible steps to incorporate self-compassion into your daily life, so you can start treating yourself with the kindness and respect you deserve.
Jay Earley, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and author specializing in treating emotional and psychological problems. Bonnie Weiss, MA LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. In Freedom from Your Inner Critic, these two experts explain how to finally rid yourself of your inner critic using powerful principles and techniques backed by science.
Marc Reklau is an author and motivational speaker best known for his work in the field of personal growth. In Love Yourself First, Reklau shows you how to cultivate a positive and self-compassionate mindset that will boost your confidence and help you experience more happiness.
In this companion workbook to Mindful Self-Compassion, authors Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer teach you how to embrace the power of self-compassion and start your journey toward a more fulfilling and loving life. Packed with practical exercises and science-backed techniques, this is a “must-read” for anyone serious about building self-compassion.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Why is self-compassion so hard for me?
There are several reasons why self-compassion may be difficult for you. For example, you may have grown up in an environment where self-criticism was modeled or encouraged, or you may have experienced past traumas or failures that have led to negative self-perceptions.
It can be difficult to change long-standing negative patterns. But with patience and a sincere willingness to challenge these patterns, you can develop a more compassionate and loving relationship with yourself. Remember that change takes time, so be gentle with yourself, and celebrate your progress.
What’s the best book for learning self-compassion?
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff is widely considered one of the best books on self-compassion. This book provides practical tools and techniques for developing self-compassion and a step-by-step guide for integrating mindfulness and compassion into daily life.
Kristen Neff is a pioneering researcher and leading expert in self-compassion. She is a best-selling author and an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
I want to practice self-compassion and self-love, but I slip up. What should I do?
One way to strengthen your self-compassion is to create a self-love jar, a simple and effective tool for self-nurturing inspiration. Your self-love jar can be a visual reminder of your positive traits and provide an emotional boost when you’re down on yourself.
Simply add notes to your self-love jar and pull them out to read when you need motivation.
Is self-compassion the same thing as self-pity?
No, self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Self-pity involves feeling sorry for oneself and focusing on one’s own problems and difficulties. In contrast, self-compassion involves being kind, understanding, and non-judgmental towards oneself, especially in times of difficulty or pain.
Self-compassion helps build resilience and emotional well-being, while self-pity can lead to hopelessness and helplessness. Embrace self-compassion, and see the difference it can make in your life.
How can I be kinder to myself?
You can start being kinder to yourself by avoiding self-criticism, taking time for self-care, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. One of the most thoughtful and self-nourishing things you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with positive and supportive people; positive energy is so vital.
Are there any alternative ways to build my self-love and self-compassion?
Some people believe in the positive energy of crystals for self-love and self-compassion. Here’s a list of seven best crystals for self-love that you may find helpful.