One of the biggest blocks to your most heartfelt dreams is the way you treat yourself. But, I also know that if you’ve been hating on yourself for most of your life, it can be quite challenging to just “flip the script” on that. So, in today’s post, I am sharing a self compassion exercise that is simple and is a great gateway into treating yourself better.
But first, let me tell you a little about what inspired me to write this post.
You know how sometimes, you’ll search for something on google, only to land in a random internet forum that has nothing to do with your original search? Well, that happened to me recently and what I found struck me so deeply that it completely strengthened my resolve to spread the self love and self acceptance message and to write this post.
It was an internet forum for people who were trying to make positive changes in their lives but who were actively trying to make those changes from a place of self-hatred.
And I don’t mean I used my life coaching eagle eyes to parse that information out. I mean, literally, the people were almost bragging about how much they hated themselves and were belittling others who suggested that self love and self compassion might be a better route.
Man, could I relate?
I once thought that hating myself and my life was the best way to make changes.
We live in a culture that consistently, and often proudly, uses tribal shame as an attempt to manipulate and control others. And without our conscious awareness of how to free yourself from that shame, that shame gets internalized and becomes our inner dialogue.
So, when I saw that conversation, it catapulted me back to a time when I felt that way, too.
But, the contrast of how I view myself, the world, and change today was sharp. I felt so much compassion, for the “old me” and for the people on this forum. And I felt so grateful for all of the healing work I have done to change my life.
That’s the most fascinating thing about self-compassion, though. When you can have compassion for yourself, it naturally flows over into having compassion for others. It’s a two-way street, really.
Compassion begets compassion.
That’s just how it works.
You might be able to force yourself to change through self-hatred. But, in my experience, those changes don’t last and you end up on a hamster wheel of “not enoughness” and never feeling happy with the goals you do achieve.
You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
So, yeah, self compassion is the way, for sure. But, as I mentioned before, it isn’t always easy to flip the script from your inner mean girl to being kind and compassionate to yourself.
So, here is a simple self compassion exercise that you can start practicing right away:
A Simple Self Compassion Exercise You Can Practice Right Now
In essence, being self-compassionate is about being present for yourself and holding space for the “humanness” of your experience and doing your best to understand it, without trying to fix it or without judging it as wrong or bad.
Here is a quote from the worlds leading researcher on self-compassion, Kristen Neff:
Self-compassion involves responding in the same supportive and understanding way you would with a good friend when you have a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.
Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now… How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?
Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals.
This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.
Like she says, I have found that the best self compassion exercise is to start by imagining that a good friend or small child was in your exact situation and looking at how you would “show up” for them.
What would you say to them?
What questions would you ask them?
What would you do to try to understand their situation better?
How might you communicate your understanding?
What would you do to make sure they feel seen and heard?
What else might you do to offer them compassion?
You’ll know you’ve landed on compassion by the way it feels. Each person is different, but I find that, for me, compassion comes with a sense that I am looking at myself (or another) with a soft gaze and a gentleness in my heart, while still being objective and without being naive or enabling.
Also note that compassion is different from empathy because you are staying outside of the situation, rather than emotionally merging with it.
Once you have connected with the feeling of compassion, imagine showing up for yourself exactly as you would for this other person. Turn those questions around onto yourself and your sitation:
What can you say to yourself?
What questions can you ask yourself?
How can you try to understand yourself and your situation better?
How might you communicate your understanding to yourself?
How can you make yourself feel seen and heard by YOU?
What else might you do to offer yourself compassion?
Now, I get it. At first, this might seem like a pretty cheesy self compassion exercise. But, I assure you, that the voice of tribal shame and the more you practice self compassion, the easier or more natural it will feel.
And if you are looking for another self compassion exercise (or a few more!), I can definitely recommend checking out Kristen Neff’s book. It goes into some of the research about compassion and more practices if this one doesn’t quite float your boat.
Either way, my hope is that you will begin to embody a practice of self-compassion because it really is one of the most important things you can do to create lasting change for yourself.