How to practice self-compassion when you don't know where to start

Self-compassion is getting more and more attention for good reason. There’s growing evidence (and plenty of anecdotal experience) that self-compassion has a transformative impact on our lives. Practicing self-compassion is correlated with reduced levels of anxiety, depression, stress, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and shame. Self-compassion is one of my favourite tools to recommend to my counselling clients, but also one of my personal favourites for my life too!

If you aren’t too sure what self-compassion is all about, then I suggest you begin with my Beginners Guide to Self-Compassion, then come back to this post for the How To.

I highly recommend practicing self-compassion if you have struggles with:

  • An overactive inner critic

  • Body image

  • Self-confidence

  • Perfectionism

  • Overwhelm or Burnout

  • Anxiety, Social anxiety

  • …yeah, it works with all kinds of struggles

Sure, sure, self-compassion is powerful, but how do I actually do it?!

The most common response is “But how do I do it?” Most people are excited about the evidence, and are on board with getting some of this ‘self-compassion goodness’ in their lives, but then stare blankly about the next step. What do we actually do? What does it sound like to speak self-compassionately towards ourselves? What on earth do we actually say?

When we first start learning about self-compassion, of course we draw a complete blank with what do say to ourselves - we haven’t even learned the language yet! It’s like if I suddenly asked an English-speaking client to say something in Greek. Of course they’d look at me blankly! Self-compassionate talk is a new language.

Here we’ll give you a little script so you can start to learn this new language…

Read through these examples of self-compassionate self-talk and see if any of them might be useful in your life right now.

The tone you use for reading them or saying them is important. Use the kind of tone you would use for a very close friend, or a child, or an elderly person.  (Someone you find it easy to be gentle and compassionate towards).

“This is really painful and difficult.” 

Or anything to acknowledge and name that you are suffering right now.  It could be “This is body image distress and it’s really difficult.” 

Imagine someone you love is feeling exactly this.  Without words, imagine what you’d feel towards them, the compassion, and how sorry you’d feel for their pain.  See if you can now offer yourself this same feeling of compassion.

 

“It totally makes sense that I would feel this way right now.  These experiences are really challenging.”

Or anything to acknowledge the context of what triggered this distress.  It’s completely ok if you’re not sure what did.  Also acknowledge how difficult that experience is.

For example you might say “Our culture is filled with messages that we need to be more, and do more. It totally makes sense that I’m feeling so critical of myself right now. It’s so hard to hear these messages every day and not absorb them.”

 

“I commit to being kind and gentle with myself.”

Or anything to reassure yourself that you want to care for yourself like you’d care for someone you love. This can be a tough one if you have been treated poorly by others throughout your life, and/or if you have a long history of being very hard on yourself. Keep reminding yourself that you deserve the same compassion you give others.

“So many people feel this same distress” 

 Or anything to acknowledge that you are not alone in this suffering. Whether you are feeling anxiety, depression, overwhelm, self-critical, low in confidence… you are not the only person to feel like this. You are human and humans struggle.

For example you might say “So many people experience anxiety - it’s incredibly common. I am not alone in feeling this way.”

 

“This is not something we can just “stop” or “get over”, this is painful, deeply ingrained, but can be changed over time with practice and patience.”

Or anything to acknowledge that this is not trivial; it’s not something you can just stop. You are not weak, nor hopeless, nor stupid for feeling like this - even if you’ve felt like this for a long time. Psychological change takes time and we need to be ready. Offer yourself compassion for any frustration you’re feeling about the time it’s taking.

 

Like learning a new language, you need to practice. Keep this list handy. When you feel distressed, instead of beating yourself up over your struggles, read through this list and take the time to really feel compassionate towards yourself. Repeat often!

It is possible to no longer be at war with yourself. Mastering the art of self-compassion can take time and practice, and may need the assistance of a professional. If you would like support in becoming more self-compassionate, I’d love to work with you.

 

by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University. She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to improve their relationship with their body so they can enjoy the freedom to live a life they adore.