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10 Tips To Be Kinder To Yourself.

A therapist debunks myths about self-compassion and shares 10 tools to be more inwardly kind.

Any of my clients could tell you that I will bring up self-compassion—I can’t deny it. Hi my name is Leah and I’m a self-compassion advocate. But I wasn’t always this way…

After many years of honing my skills, I am quite competent at being hard on myself; a true expert in being inwardly unkind. My own therapist has put in hundreds of hours to support me in developing more self-compassion, encouraging me to offer myself the same kindness and care that I offer to the people in my life. This has shaped me into a friend and partner who will root for you to be more compassionate with yourself, and into a therapist who cherishes the opportunity to support my clients in their journey of knowing, accepting, and being kind to themselves.

I’m forever working on self-compassion—it’s a practice not a destination, y’all. If you recognize your own negative self-talk, harsh self-criticism, or even just see opportunities to be gentler with yourself, keep reading!

What’s Self-Compassion, Anyway?

Professor and researcher Dr. Kristin Neff identifies the three core components of self-compassion as 1) mindfulness, 2) common humanity, and 3) kindness, and suggests that “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with your failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

The Latin word for self-compassion quite literally means “to suffer with.” Self-compassion is about noticing that you’re struggling, naming it as a universal experience, and offering yourself kindness and warmth. Instead of amplifying your struggles, failures, and feelings of inadequacy with judgment and criticism, you can practice offering yourself support and encouragement.

Self-Compassion Practice Is Not Just Affirmations

When you’re feeling really down, affirmations may not feel authentic. Gassing yourself up by repeating “I Am Amazing” while looking in the mirror can be a good practice for confidence, but it may not be your vibe and you may not always believe it (especially when you’re struggling). I’m not knocking affirmations, they are a useful and powerful tool for many people. But when affirmations don’t feel aligned or authentic, they can be a source of toxic positivity.

Unlike affirmation, self-compassion is about meeting yourself exactly where you are—showing yourself kindness, warmth, and understanding without having to change anything or make it different. Self-compassion is an opportunity to validate your very real struggles and challenges, to embrace all of your feelings (even the ones you don’t enjoy feeling), and turn compassion inward.

Self-Compassion Is Not Wallowing in Self-Pity

A common fear with self-compassion is that it will breed complacency, undermine motivation, and stunt growth. Some people resist or push back against the practice of being kind because they worry about wallowing in sadness, grief, or self-pity. You may be concerned that if you allow yourself to be where you are—and that place is dark or challenging—you’ll get stuck.

Self-compassion is not complacency and it is certainly not self-pity. Self-compassion is actually shown to be a more effective motivator than self-criticism and encourages a growth mindset that allows us to learn from our mistakes and improve our performance over time.

“When we mindfully observe our pain, we can acknowledge our suffering without exaggerating it, allowing us to take a wiser and more objective perspective on ourselves and our lives,” says Dr. Neff.  “Self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience we have available, radically improving our mental and physical wellbeing. It motivates us to make changes and reach our goals not because we’re inadequate, but because we care and want to be happy.”

A self-compassionate perspective is a source of strength and resilience; Self-compassionate people demonstrate greater ability to cope with stressful life events such as natural disasters, military combat, health challenges, and divorce. Research actively dispels the myth that self-compassion breeds self-pity, and instead illustrates that self-compassion is the antidote to self-pity.

Self-Compassion Is Not Selfish

It is not self-indulgent or selfish to be compassionate with yourself. Because self-compassion acknowledges the shared human experience of challenge and struggle, it actually “reduces self-focus, increases perspective-taking, and helps us feel connected to others when we struggle.”

Self-Compassion Does Not Limit Accountability

Showing yourself care and compassion is not going to prevent you from being accountable. According to research, "people who are high in self-compassion take greater responsibility for their failures and make needed changes while maintaining a loving, caring, and patient approach toward themselves.”

Why Compassion Matters

Harsh criticism, whether from ourselves or others, has adverse health effects. Dr. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer share:

“When we criticize ourselves we’re tapping into the body’s threat-defense system…Feeling threatened puts stress on the mind and body, and chronic stress can cause anxiety and depression, which is why habitual self-criticism is so bad for emotional and physical well-being…When we practice self-compassion, we are deactivating the threat-defense system and activating the care system. Oxytocin and endorphins are released, which helps reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security.”

People who are self-compassionate are less likely to: become emotionally dysregulated, develop anxiety and depressive disorders, experience suicidal ideation, get overwhelmed by stressful events, use substances to cope with feelings, and feel lonely and isolated. There are profound benefits to being self-compassionate, such as feeling more satisfied with your life, being resilient in the face of hardship, maintaining work-life balance, experiencing intimacy in relationships, maintaining healthy boundaries, and having a strong immune system.

The Role of Shame

When you resist or ignore a difficult emotion, you are actively invalidating yourself. One common driver of this minimization is shame. Brené Brown says it best:

“If you put shame in a petri dish and cover it with judgment, silence, and secrecy, you’ve created the perfect environment for shame to grow until it makes its way into every corner and crevice of your life. If, on the other hand, you put shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, shame loses its power and begins to wither. Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame—an environment it can’t survive in, because shame needs you to believe you’re alone and it’s just you.”

Self-compassion recognizes the common humanity in struggling— you are not alone, and there is nothing shameful about your challenges.

How To Cultivate Self-Compassion

You get it, self-compassion is important. So how can you practice it? Here are ten evidence-based strategies to start being kinder to yourself:

  1. How would you treat a friend? Consider how you would respond to a friend who is struggling. How does this compare to the ways you typically respond to yourself in hard moments? How might things change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a friend?
  2. Compassionate letter writing: What is something about yourself that makes you feel inadequate? First, write about what emotions come up for you when you think about this part of yourself. Then, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of a loving friend. This is a friend who sees all of you, and loves you in your fullness with all of your imperfections. What would this compassionate, caring friend say to you about your “flaw?” How might they remind you that you’re human? How might their unconditional care feel? After you write, step away from the letter for some time and read it at a later time to really take it in. Research shows that “Writing a self-compassionate letter over a 5 day period decreased depression for 3 months and increased happiness for 6 months”
  3. Guided Exercises, like the Self-Compassion Break
  4. Loving Kindness Meditation
  5. Supportive Touch: This could be a hand on your heart, a tight self-hug, cradling your face, tickling your arms, rubbing your chest, or any other form of touch that feels caring and supportive.
  6. Transforming Unkind Words: Sometimes negative self-talk becomes an automatic track—criticizing or being unkind to yourself is a habit that takes intentionality and effort to shift. When you have a critical thought about yourself, write it down. Then transform that judgment into something more compassionate. Try repeating this more compassionate thought to yourself a few times.
  7. Distance Yourself From Your Inner Critic: To begin relating to your inner critic differently, you can use strategies that allow you to feel separate from that judgmental voice. You can tell your critic “I need space” by:
    • Giving your critic a name that is different from your own. You may even imagine your critic to look a certain way or have a particular tone of voice or attire. When the critical thoughts come up, imagine this critic saying them (not you).
    • Singing your self-critical thoughts out loud to the tune of a popular song— “you’re an idiot” sounds a lot less believable when it’s sung as an upbeat bop.
    • Visualizing the critical thoughts in a tiny or playful font.
  8. “Of Course”: One tool for giving yourself more grace and communicating understanding is to use compassionate language like “of course” or “it makes sense.” For example, “of course I’m not feeling my best, it’s been an exceptionally hard week”  or “it makes sense that I’m feeling unproductive right now, lots of people are struggling to be motivated during a time like this.”
  9. Stop Should-ing On Yourself: When you use phrases like “I should…” or “I shouldn’t…”, it’s usually a sign that you’re internalizing expectations from elsewhere (and judging yourself for not meeting them). You can be more compassionate by noticing whether those expectations align with your own values, needs, and wants, and then by replacing the “shoulds” with less judgmental phrases like “I want to…”, “I’d like to…”, or “It doesn’t feel aligned for me to...”
  10. Asking For Accountability: You don’t have to do it alone. If you notice that you’re struggling to be kind, request that a confidant helps you recognize opportunities to be more self-compassionate. Examples might sound like:
    • “I’m noticing you’re being really harsh with yourself today. Do you have any space to be more gentle?”
    • “I can’t imagine you saying something so critical to me. Why do you think you’re speaking to yourself that way?”
    • Or perhaps a more playful version, “Hey! Don’t talk about my friend like that!”

*Pro Tip: try to resist the urge to be unkind to yourself about being unkind to yourself. In other words, don’t judge or shame yourself for being self-critical. Self-compassion is a practice and you won’t always show up with kindness on your first attempt. If you notice that you’re being judgmental or critical, you now have some strategies to be more gentle.

Being kind to yourself can be a powerful tool for coping, but self-compassion is not a replacement for getting help when you need it. If you notice that you’re feeling low for a long period of time, or your mood is preventing you from doing the things that you want to or need to do, please explore supportive resources such as a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group. Getting help is another way you can be kind to yourself.

How can you be just a little more compassionate with yourself today?