Self-compassion is a way to help ourselves stay healthy. If you are like many of us, you may only think about your well-being after something hard has happened, like an illness, a crisis, or a stressful work issue. However, self-care is an ongoing issue, and not just when hard things happen.
One thing that’s very important to remember for your own self-care are the skills of self-compassion and self-forgiveness. It’s easy, perhaps even inevitable, to have compassion for someone around us who’s suffering. But we often neglect to feel compassion for ourselves. Self-compassion seems to come naturally for some people, but for many of us it doesn’t.
How do we use self-compassion?
The first step is just acknowledging that something hard has happened, something that has resulted in our own suffering.
Acknowledging this means that we don’t have to tough it out unsaid, and we don’t have to pretend it doesn’t exist.
The next steps involve a simple meditation process.
The practice may feel like it doesn’t come naturally for a while, but over time, if you do it regularly, it will become a more automatic (and healthy) process for you.
- After you’ve acknowledged your hurt or struggle, you can take a few deep breaths and let your body calm.
- Visualize someone who cares for you, such as a dear friend or a mentor. (Sometimes, I even imagine my favorite pet). Allow yourself to remember and feel that you matter to this person (or animal) – they want you to do well.
- Next, allow yourself to imagine what this dear friend would say to you and the compassion they would show you.
- Allow yourself to absorb these feelings and kind words. Try to repeat them to yourself, saying them to yourself in your own words.
- Show yourself the same kindness, love, and respect your friend would show you.
- Allow yourself to be soothed and strengthened by these thoughts and images.
- Repeat this exercise as much as you need to.
When I use this exercise, I feel it increases my strength, as well as gratitude for the loving and compassionate people who have been in my life. I think a lot about my grandmother (who always loved me no matter what), a dear mentor I had when I was in graduate school, and an internship mentor I had. These women had so much wisdom and kindness and I always felt their desire for me to do well. Over time, I have realized that I internalized their compassion and care for me as a person. That compassion has become a part of me, and for that I am grateful.