How to Cultivate More Self Compassion

Self Compassion: How to Love Yourself 

Self compassion is something so many of us struggle with. No matter how kind and understanding you are to others, it is all too easy to forget this kindness when speaking to yourself. You might judge yourself a little harshly, speak to yourself in a severe or cruel manner, operate using inordinate levels of self criticism or fail to offer yourself the same humility and grace you’d usually offer to those around you.

Self compassion, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis to this self criticism. It’s about acting with self love and self kindness, about never judging yourself too harshly and about understanding that your worth is unconditional. 

While many people wrongly define self compassion as a weakening of resilience or ‘going soft’, in reality,  it’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, developing ways of communicating with yourself that come from a place of understanding, kindness and love is a major part of nurturing emotional wellbeing and something we could all benefit from. That’s why self compassion is a key component to all the experiences here at New Life Portugal, no matter which program you embark on. 

If the idea of self compassion leaves you with a whole list of questions you’d like answered, then you’ve come to the right place. Below we cover it all, from what exactly is self compassion, why is self love important and what exactly are the benefits of self kindness? Keep reading to discover how to cultivate more self compassion in your life.

What is self compassion?

Put simply, acting with self compassion is treating yourself with kindness. With roots in Buddhist philosophy, the concept relies on the knowledge that your value is unconditional, and though you may make the occasional bad decision, that doesn’t mean you’re an entirely bad person. 

According to Marina Neumann, [insert title here] here at New Life Portugal, self compassion is about balance. “Self compassion is not avoiding, suppressing, or denying. Rather, it’s about meeting your challenges with the qualities of mindfulness, common humanity, and self kindness,” she explains.  

Although it’s very much about the self, acting with self compassion requires you to consider how you would choose to treat others and apply that to yourself. “For me, self compassion is a way of talking to ourselves, as we would when talking to a good friend that is suffering or going through challenges,” Marina continues. “Even in face of mistakes or failures, self compassion helps us to evaluate the situation without either self deprecation or defensive self enhancement.”

Why is self compassion important? 

According to Marina, self compassion is a tool for quieting your inner critic. “Many people have a strong inner critic, which can be very harsh, often saying things in a way that one would never say to other people. Self compassion is a way to quiet this excessive critic, which also enables sustainable self confidence.”

Notably, acting with self compassion is something we can all benefit from as it’s a way of utilising positive emotion in the face of difficulty, trauma or self doubt. “We all should be able to relate to our poignant emotions and to cultivate positive emotions,” says Marina. “High achievers may tend to deny their emotions, and although this could be considered normal, that can bring a high price to them, leading to burnout. When we are moved by emotions like kindness, compassion, empathy, and love, we can fully embrace life and all of the opportunities it presents,” she adds.

Benefits of self compassion

First and foremost, self compassion is key to nurturing your emotional wellbeing, but it can also have a multitude of other benefits. These include: 

To build resilience in difficult times 

Exercising self compassion can help you better cope with difficult situations and experiences. As Marina cites, “David Treleaven, a writer and educator on Mindfulness and Trauma says tha self compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness and care when we encounter pain and suffering. It’s taking our ability to feel sympathy and warmth for others’ struggles and turning that back on ourselves.”

To aid self improvement 

Self compassion is an important aspect of any self improvement journey. “A series of studies conducted by Breines & Chen evaluated how participants respond to setbacks, mistakes, and their own weaknesses,” Marina notes. “The group who practiced self compassion showed Increased self improvement motivation and effort. They were also more likely to have a growth mindset and more likely to want to fix a past ethical transgression.”

To heal from trauma 

“Self compassion is important in working with trauma,” Marina believes. “People experiencing post-traumatic stress are often trapped in pain and experiencing an ongoing sense of self-judgement, shame, and isolation. Sometimes this is for the trauma they experienced, and other times for the symptoms they continue to endure.” She cites the work of David Treleaven who wrote: “Compassion is a response to suffering, and trauma is an extreme form of suffering. We can’t offer trauma-sensitive mindfulness without including compassion in people’s practice.”

To nurture creativity 

Not solely for emotional wellbeing, self compassion can also be a conduit for creativity. “In his book Mindfulness for Creativity, Dr. Danny Penman recommends practicing self compassion as a way of developing the resilience needed in the creative process,” Marina notes. 

To reduce feelings of shame 

Not only can self compassion help with self confidence, it can also help quieten the human emotions that can often hinder our progress. “We also have research that suggests that self-compassion supports regulation and ultimately the enhancements of one´s window of tolerance and it is a good way to work with shame, which can bring a lot of self-punishing,” Marina adds.

Barriers to self compassion 

As with all self improvement and emotional wellbeing constructs, acting with self compassion isn’t easy. In fact, there are a number of barriers that can all too often stop us from properly embracing the practice such as:

Critical voice 

As previously mentioned, a massive part of self compassion is dealing with your inner critic, but this skeptical and negative internal voice can also stop you from properly immersing ourselves in self love and kindness altogether. At its worst, this inner voice can make you feel entirely worthless and unworthy, as though you don’t deserve the kindness you’re attempting to offer yourself.

The weakness misconception 

Another obstacle to cultivating more self compassion is the fact that many people have the wrong idea of what self kindness is all about. “There is a misconception that self compassion will make people weak and passive, as opposed to the benefits we mentioned here earlier,” Marina reveals. “This is a mistaken belief to think that it will cause a lack of motivation to address personal shortcomings or succeed in the face of adversity.” That means the first step to treating yourself with kindness is to view the entire notion as a strength, not a weakness. 

Inexperience or uncertainty

Another major obstacle to self kindness is actually knowing how to love yourself, or how to be kind to yourself. Although there are easy exercises we can all do at home to aid its development (more on that below), seeking the advice of trained professionals like those here at New Life Portugal can really help accelerate your unique journey towards mindful self compassion. 

Self pity versus self compassion

Some people worry that exercising more self compassion will lead to indulging in self pity but it’s important to note their key differences. “Self pity is an excessive, self absorbed unhappiness over one’s own troubles,” Marina explains. “It is a passive attitude that is about feeling sorry for oneself.” 

Self compassion, on the other hand, is not about self pity or thinking ‘poor me’, nor is it about feeling sorry for yourself or softening your character. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about treating yourself with balanced, level-headed kindness. So when you make a mistake – we all do, we’re human – you are able to turn the feelings of shame and worry into drivers to want to do or act better in the future.

How to be kind to yourself 

Self-kindness and self love doesn’t necessarily come easily to most of us. In fact, it takes a considerable amount of conscious effort to cultivate more self compassion.

To help, Marina recommends a simple exercise that requires you to briefly remove yourself from the situation and look at it from an outsider perspective. “Imagine you are writing a letter to yourself from a close friend or mentor perspective,” she explains. “This person knows you well, understands you and wants the best for you. What would they say to you about the challenges and opportunities you are facing?”

If that’s tricky, imagine you are instead a child. How would you speak to or comfort a child in the same stressful situation? Sometimes we find it easier to cultivate self compassion for those we deem more vulnerable or innocent than ourselves, so try treating yourself as you would a child.

Finally, many experts also recommend mindfulness as a way of cultivating more self compassion. Meditation and other mindfulness activities will help foster strong self connection, thus enabling us to better accept ourselves when experiencing a challenging situation or experience. At New Life Portugal, conscious mindfulness is woven into all that we do, from our schedule to our training to even much smaller matters like how we turn up to meals.