What Does Self-Compassion Really Mean?

For most of us, self-compassion is a theoretical concept that sounds nice if only we had the energy to ever get around to it. We know it’s something we should master for our own personal development, but what does it really mean and how do we truly get accustomed to incorporating this practice into our daily lives?

Practicing self-compassion means slowing down and becoming actively aware of how we are talking to ourselves. Most of us develop a pattern of negative self-talk, engaging sometimes in an even abusive dialogue with ourselves. We replay these thoughts or words over and over again in our minds, tearing ourselves down in the process. The end result is that we feel insecure and unsure of ourselves, believing these negative thoughts to be true. When we talk to ourselves the way we would to our best friend for instance, we take ourselves out of the destructive critical looping pattern to which we’ve become accustomed, and we change the dynamic. Rather than obsessing over our infractions, beating ourselves up in the process, we begin to encourage ourselves. This gives us the strength and confidence to move forward with self-assurance, unencumbered by our self-defeating dialogue.

If you find it difficult to get to a place of self-compassion, it may be helpful to visualize yourself as a baby. As a baby, you were completely innocent and pure. You were a blank canvas, worthy of love and kindness. Would you ever call yourself (as a baby), pathetic for being afraid or lonely, for instance? No. You would comfort a baby by reassuring her that she’s all right, that she’s safe. How would you talk to yourself as a baby? Start there.

As we practice self-compassion and move away from self-criticism and judgment, we begin to view those around us more compassionately. The way we talk to ourselves is the way we tend to talk to or about others. This means that the person who is most critical of another is also deeply critical of herself. When we acknowledge that we ourselves are doing the best we can, we are able to acknowledge that others are doing the best they can as well. Rather than judging others for not being this or that (usually stemming from our own opinions about the way they should be), we accept who they are and can embrace it. Our own compassion for ourselves actually leads to deeper and more authentic relationships based on understanding and validation.

Self-compassion is an ever-evolving practice. It is natural for certain circumstances to trigger negative self-talk, criticism, insecurity and judgment. Simply observing what is happening and becoming aware of how we are treating ourselves is actively practicing self-compassion. As we begin to treat ourselves kindly, our confidence grows and we find greater satisfaction in our relationships. The road to self-compassion is not a straight one, but it is well worth the effort.

Avery Neal, PhD is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. She specializes in depression and anxiety at all stages in a woman’s life.

Dr. Neal is the author of, If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse, which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by Oprah.com, American Counseling Association, Counseling Today, BookTrib, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine, and her courses have been taken by over 18,000 people worldwide. The International Association of HealthCare Professionals nominated her as one of the top psychologists in Houston.