How To Practice Self-Compassion in 6 Steps

By Kristance Harlow 10/04/17

I’ve heard people say, “My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk.” I can’t relate.

happy woman sitting at table in park
Just be kind to yourself.

I am the most hurtful towards myself. For as long as I can remember, I have sought out reasons why I was to blame for negative outcomes. I heard critical voices with more clarity than supportive ones. I used alcohol for many reasons, including to punish myself for my imagined and real faults. I didn’t seek help in times of dire need because I didn’t think I deserved help. I was so harmful to myself that I didn’t know a little self-compassion could have slowed down that rollercoaster and even given me a reprieve from the extreme ups and downs of my emotions.

Self-compassion is one of the most important life skills. Unfortunately, many of us don’t even know what it means to have compassion towards ourselves. One person may think of it as self-care while another may be annoyed by what they imagine to be indulgent selfishness. Self-compassion is neither of those things. Rather, to be compassionate towards oneself is being kind to yourself with the same tenderness and understanding you would bestow on a loved one who is suffering.

Self-compassion can lower internal stigma and reduce our personal barriers to seeking help for problems like addiction or mental health issues. A 2017 paper published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that many college aged men do not seek mental health services due to masculine societal norms but “men with higher self-compassion reported a weaker relationship between masculine norm adherence and help-seeking barriers.”

Self-compassion protects us from ourselves. Another 2017 study published in School Psychology Quarterly found that self-compassion protects adolescents from inflicting self-harm because “those high on self-compassion may be more likely to use adaptive strategies” for dealing with pain and suffering. These studies confirm what psychologists have been saying for years, that self-compassion may be even more important than self-esteem.

Be More Compassionate to Yourself

1. Being mean to yourself doesn’t help

I’ve heard people say, “My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk.” I can’t relate. Life in sobriety isn’t always easy. Life isn’t always easy, period. How I react to difficult situations is far from perfect. I know I’m not the only one who piggybacks a poorly maneuvered reaction with being extremely hard on myself for it. Doubling down does not help me do better next time.

Self-compassion doesn’t provide a get out of jail free card. With self-compassion in tow, instead of becoming more dismissive of our own harmful behavior we become less accepting. Self-compassion increases self-worth and reduces selfishness, which allows for space to practice aligning our behaviors with our values.

2. Always keep a handful of it in your pocket

Something seemingly insignificant can send me spiraling down into a pool of negativity. I will stay there and marinate in self-pity and self-judgement, believing that I shouldn’t have gotten in this position in the first place. I deserve what I get, I tell myself over and over. It is much easier to climb out of the water if I am holding onto a handful of self-compassion.

3. Let go of excuses

My brain likes to tell me that there are so many things I should be able to do, and I need to just try harder. I believe I must push myself to be more than I am. I might admit to myself that I can’t do something, which then I feel the need to qualify with reasons as to why I can’t (ie; I wasn’t feeling well, I was depressed, I couldn’t concentrate). It would be much easier to let go of the shame by being compassionate and telling myself that it’s OK. With or without excuses, it is still OK, because we are all imperfect humans.

4. Take responsibility without taking all the blame

A lot of us tend to grapple with guilt and shame in the wake of our addictions. Not to mention the painful aftershocks, both physical and emotional. Coming to terms with the things we experienced and taking stock of our part in those experience is an arduous process. I’ve found it challenging to take responsibility without taking all the blame.

5. Stop resisting

If you’re like me, then you have a hard time being kind to yourself and even resist it. When life is good, I find myself being extremely self-critical. I don’t feel worthy of truly good things and sabotage myself to try to counteract the guilt and privilege that happiness and health entail. Self-compassion reminds me that it is ok to be happy. I do not have to beat myself up for not spending every moment immersed in trying to solve the world’s problems. I'm not a bad person for taking the time to just exist and feel joy. I’m also not a bad person if I struggle to take that time to feel joy.

6. Keep it simple

If you can’t let go of excuses or find the balance between responsibility and blame, there are still ways to practice self-compassion. I suggest for you to try one thing first: be nice to yourself. Just be kind to yourself.

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Kristance Harlow is a freelance writer and mental illness advocate. She fights stigma and writes about uncomfortable experiences. She lives in a foreign land with her husband and rescue pupster. Find Kristance on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or her blog.