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Practicing Self-Compassion: Treat Yourself

Updated on July 11, 2017
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and has qualifications in counselling CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Summary of Top Points

  • Self-compassion is showing the same care and thoughtfulness towards ourselves as we do towards our loved ones.
  • People who are taught self-compassion notice a significant improvement in their personal relationships.
  • They also report feeling better emotionally and have better resilience (the ability to recover from life’s knocks).
  • Therapists reported an overall improvement in their client’s mental health whenever they were taught self-compassion.
  • As part of your self-compassion (or "mind your self") practice, do something nice for yourself.
  • And make it a regular ritual.

What is Self-Compassion?

According to Dr. Kirstin Neff, who I discuss below, self-compassion is showing the same care and thoughtfulness towards ourselves as we do towards our loved ones.

I Love Me

Show Yourself Love
Show Yourself Love | Source

Self-Compassion and Positive Psychology

During my degree studies in Applied Psychology at University, I developed a keen interest in positive psychology, and in self-compassion in particular. As a mature student in my 50s, the idea of loving ourselves as we love others (yes, it turned that well known and oft quoted phrase on its head!) was new and slightly shocking to me. But then in 2011 I read a book on Self-Compassion by Dr Kirstin Neff [1] entitled Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and I was totally hooked. I became immersed in the research, and continue to keep up to date with it today.

Self-Compassion Research

And we are learning more and more about the importance of self-compassion these days through research. One of the most prominent people in this research is Dr. Kirstin Neff [1]. She and her colleagues found that people who were taught self-compassion noticed a significant improvement in their personal relationships. They also reported feeling better emotionally, had better resilience (the ability to recover from life’s knocks) and their therapists reported an overall improvement in their client’s mental health.[2] So as we can see, self-compassion has become an important part of mental self care.

Ted Talk with Kristin Neff

Treating Others with Loving Kindness

My first encounter with loving kindness came from my parents: I loved Fridays when I was a child. Not just because it was the end of the school week, but because it was the day my dad brought home a treat for me. Actually, he brought a treat home for my mum primarily, but he always had something small for me, too. It might be a tube of Rolo, a Macaroon Bar, a comic book or a small toy. As I got older it might be a book by my current favorite author or some very cool stationery for school. But whatever it was, it was always something my dad knew that I loved. He was equally as thoughtful with my mum’s gifts.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but those treats were to me an indication (one of many) that my mum and I were cared for and loved. No so much because of the treat itself, but because of the care and thoughtfulness with which my dad chose it. And he was thoughtful in other ways, too, as was my mum.

But Self-Compassion?

But I have not always treated myself with the same thoughtfulness and care. I had no problem with my self-esteem but it never occurred to me to treat myself as I treated my loved ones. It just didn’t come into my consciousness. And if it did, I guess I would have rejected it as narcissism or vanity. Until that is, I encountered the concept while in University, as mentioned above.

Mind Your Self

But even then, I found it difficult to get out of the habit of being self critical. It took a lot of practice, particularly using mindfulness. In fact, I couldn't have done it without mindfulness. I came across an amazing book recently that I wish had been published a few years ago when I was struggling. It's The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions, and is written by Christopher K. Gremer. In it, Dr. Gremer explains the science behind the theories, which, for me is a major plus. When I understand the science, I am more inclined to go with the theory. In fact, I found that self-compassion, positive psychology and mindfulness are inseparable in this context.

Take Some Time Out With a Good Book

Take Time Out With a Good Book
Take Time Out With a Good Book | Source

A "Mind Your Self" Tip

One of my favorite “mind your self” tips is to treat yourself. Do something nice for YOU, at least once a week. You could book a massage, which is also good for your physical and mental health.[3] [4]

Or buy yourself something, like a magazine or a book. Or maybe a new gadget for your hobby, or just a nice pot plant, bunch of flowers or even a box of chocolates.

But it doesn’t even have to be something you need to spend money on. You could take time out to read a good book, or go for a hike in the woods, or along a beach. Or just spend some quiet time in nature, sitting and watching the wildlife. All of these have been proven to be good for our physical and mental health. [5] But that is not a requirement either. Just so long as it’s something you enjoy and regard as a treat.

Watching the Wildlife

Spend Some Quiet Time in Nature, Watching the Wildlife
Spend Some Quiet Time in Nature, Watching the Wildlife | Source

Make it a Ritual

Vary it about a bit, and most importantly, make it a ritual. Put it on your to-do list, write it in your diary, put it into your schedule on your laptop or phone. Do whatever you need to do to make sure your honor that appointment with YOU.

Make Self-Compassion a Habit

So remember, self-compassion is all about being kind towards ourselves. We now know that being hard on ourselves or overly critical does not help us to grow stronger. In fact, it reduces our resilience to life's hard knocks and can even have a detrimental effect on our relationships.

We can show ourselves kindness in many ways: By being tolerant towards our mistakes, understanding about our difficult emotions and remembering that every body messes up sometimes.

We can do something every week that we enjoy and is a treat. It doesn't have to be anything big, expensive or complicated.

And it's important that the generations coming behind us, particularly the little ones, understand the concept of self-compassion. So pass it on. There's a lovely book on this topic for children called My New Best Friend. Sarah Marlowe has written in a way that's easy for children to understand, and the illustrations by Ivette Salom are wonderful! I love reading this to my grandchildren, and they love it, too.

Are You Self-Compassionate?

How many of these do you do whenever you make a mistake or mess up?

See results

Some Recommended Reading and Websites on Self-Compassion

Website of Dr Kristin Neff: http://self-compassion.org/

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Gremer (I found this book really helpful, AND it's book is actually on the Highly Recommended list of Kristin Neff)

My New Best Friend by Sara Marlowe (This book is for children and teaches them about Self-Compassion. I read it to my grandchildren!)

Bibliography

  1. https://education.utexas.edu/faculty/kristin_neff
  2. http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Self-Criticism.pdf
  3. http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/health/benefits-of-massage-therapy/
  4. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/massage/art-20045743
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709294/

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      This topic really needs our attention. I am listening to Dr. Kristin Neff. Thanks for underscoring the importance of self-compassion.

    • annerivendell profile image
      Author

      annerivendell 2 weeks ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you for your comment, MsDora! Yes indeed, the topic needs our attention and our practice!

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