Imagine you just witnessed your co-worker completely botch a presentation they had been working diligently on for weeks. What would you say to them? Would you keep bringing up their failure every day for the next several weeks? Chances are that you would probably be quick to offer words of encouragement and be sensitive to their feelings. Now imagine you botched your presentation. Would you be able to offer the same encouraging words and sensitivity towards yourself? For many of us, the answer is no. We tend to be harsh, critical and unforgiving of ourselves—bringing up the same mistakes in our minds over and over again. This type of self-punishment is neither productive nor healthy as it diminishes our psychological well-being by putting us in a negative state of mind.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, is “the capacity to find the wisdom and dignity in one’s experience (particularly suffering), and to respond to it in an appropriately kind way,” according to Marriage and Family Therapist Lea Seigen Shinraku.¹ In other words, rather than mercilessly blaming yourself for mistakes and shortcomings, you accept and acknowledge your humanness with all that entails.
Self-compassion helps us get through difficult times by viewing and treating ourselves the way we would view and treat someone we care deeply about who is simply doing their best. Having compassion for ourselves increases our resilience and sense of self-worth, which in turn increases our ability to feel motivated and overall happy.
However, finding the capacity to approach our shortcomings and struggles with compassion can seem unattainable when we are at our lowest and feel unworthy of compassion. Psychotherapist Josephine Wiseheart, MS, encourages her clients not to wait until they feel like they ‘deserve’ self-compassion, or else it might never happen.¹ Rather, the action of practicing self-compassion and allowing kindness towards yourself will eventually make you feel worthy and deserving.
In practical terms, there are many ways to get started that are both approachable and easy to incorporate in your everyday life. Harvard Medical School’s publishing division shares these four simple ways to practice self-compassion.²