Caring for yourself
Practice Self-Compassion: How To Be Kind To Yourself
Self-compassion can help you get through hard times with less pain. Learn how to practice self-compassion & be kind to yourself.
Difficult feelings travel in packs. When sadness and worry turn up, they’re likely to bring feelings like guilt, shame, and disconnection along. Those feelings might look like:
Guilt and shame are powerful emotions, skilled at tricking us into harsh self-judgment and making us believe that we don’t deserve support and forgiveness. We can escape that trap by practicing self-compassion: showing ourselves the same kindness and understanding we show others.
Research shows that self-compassion helps people get through hard times with less pain. Combat soldiers who were kind to themselves ended up with fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1 People who showed self-compassion during their divorce were less distressed after separating and were still doing better months later.2
- Tip #1Show yourself the same empathy and understanding you show others
In our hardest moments, we’re often our own harshest critics, blaming ourselves for things beyond our control or judging ourselves harshly for ordinary human imperfections. It is easy to get tricked into seeing our self-critical thoughts as an accurate reflection of reality.
But we all fall short of our standards for ourselves. Sometimes, we are simply too stressed, sick, exhausted, or overwhelmed to be at our best. So we lose our temper, drop the ball, hurt someone’s feelings, can’t show up the way we want to, or mess up one way or another. Beating ourselves up doesn’t move us forward, it just leaves us feeling inadequate and unworthy.
Treating ourselves with compassion instead has real power. In one experiment, people were asked to recall a failure or humiliating experience. Those who wrote themselves a letter expressing the same care and understanding they would offer a friend felt meaningfully better than people asked to write about their positive traits.3
- How to do it
When we reflect on the choices we made in hard times, we often regret something we did or failed to do. It’s easy to overlook the good reasons we had for the choice at the time or to blame ourselves for things beyond our control. Just as that wouldn’t be fair to do to another person, that isn’t fair to do to ourselves.
To shift perspective, try one of these strategies:
- Imagine someone you love sharing those same self-critical thoughts with you. Would you tell them that they’re right? Or that they don’t deserve help or support? Of course not! Instead, think about what you would say to help them feel safe, worthy, and loved. Tell yourself those things the next time a self-critical thought pops up.
- Imagine yourself as a young, innocent child who sometimes makes mistakes or gets overwhelmed by negative feelings. Just as all children deserve understanding and unconditional love, you too deserve that kindness. Think about the words of comfort this child longs to hear and offer yourself the same words of compassion.
- Imagine a loving and accepting person who knows all of your gifts, imperfections, and experiences. What would this wise person say to you? Now, offer yourself that same understanding and compassion.
- Tip #2Recognize your connection to the shared human experience
Hardship and loss are unavoidable parts of the human experience. Although we all know this, part of us believes things are “supposed” to go well, that ongoing health and happiness are the natural state of things. When something really challenging happens, that belief in how things ought to be can leave us feeling cheated or wondering, “Why me?”
The unfairness of our suffering can feel especially isolating when we see “normal” life going on around us. Recognizing that the experience of pain is universal can keep us from the added suffering of feeling alone.
- How to do it
To feel more connected, consider the number of people in your community who are experiencing hardship right now. Or reflect on all of the people throughout human history who have gone through an event like what you’re facing. They, too, have moved through sadness, fear, or anger.
This exercise is not about discounting your own suffering by finding people who have it worse. It’s about recognizing the interconnectedness of our experiences so you feel less alone. You might tell yourself:
- “I am not alone in feeling alone right now—others feel the same way at this moment.”
- “Being human comes with experiencing pain. I belong to a web of people who have survived hard times.”
- “From the outside, I can’t tell what their inner experience is. Their life looks easy, but they may also be struggling”
- “In this moment, they seem happy, but I don’t know what their past held, or what their future will hold. Like all people, they will sometimes feel the way I do now.”
In hard times, self-compassion can help by reminding you that pain, imperfection, and regret are part of the shared human experience. You deserve to feel cared for and understood. Offering yourself the same kindness, empathy, and forgiveness you offer to others can help you to heal.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 1 of 10
Slow down and feel your feelings: Lean into the Suck
- None of us want to be sad, angry, or scared. But research shows that letting yourself fully experience your emotions can help you start to heal.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 2 of 10
Focus On The Basics: Breathe, Eat, Sleep, Move
- During life’s hardest moments, it’s critical to focus on the self-care basics: sleeping, eating, breathing, and moving. Learn more today.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 3 of 10
It’s Not Your Fault & It Won’t Always Feel Like This
- During difficult times, it’s easy to fall into mental traps, such as the “3 P’s.” Remember that it’s not your fault, & this feeling won’t last forever. Learn more.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 5 of 10
How To Ask For Help: Kick the Elephant out of the Room
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room — kick it out. Learn how to open up, have difficult conversations & ask for the help you need.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 6 of 10
Avoid Avoidance & Accept Negative Emotions
- The battle to push bad feelings away will make your life smaller over time. Learn how to accept & embrace negative emotions during life’s hardest moments.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 7 of 10
How To Practice Gratitude & Spread it to Others
- During hard times, practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive, but it can make a difference. Learn more.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 8 of 10
How To Build Your Support System
- During hard times, everyone needs extra support. Learn how to build your support system of friends, family, & other loved ones.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 9 of 10
Struggle, Grief & Joy Can Co-Exist
- Positive & negative emotions don’t cancel each other out, & you don’t have to be done with pain to make space for joy. Learn how grief & joy can co-exist.
Caring for yourself: Lesson 10 of 10
Post-Traumatic Growth: Build a meaningful new normal
- Learn more about post-traumatic growth & creating a more meaningful life after hardship.
Supporting others: Lesson 1 of 4
Mobilize their Support Team: Find Support For Others
- In life’s hardest moments, people often need more support than any one person can give. Learn how to find & mobilize support for a loved one facing adversity.
Supporting others: Lesson 2 of 4
Show up and Support in Specific, Concrete Ways
- When someone is going through a hard time, even the smallest acts of support can be significant. Learn about specific, concrete ways you can support others.
Supporting others: Lesson 3 of 4
Help people cope: Be There for the Long Haul
- Grief and hardship can long outlast the initial waves of support. Show your loved ones that you’re there to provide long-term support.
Supporting others: Lesson 4 of 4
How to Talk about Stress, Trauma, & Loss
- Instead of avoiding hard topics, become part of a culture that avoids avoidance. Learn how to discuss stress, trauma, loss, & other hard topics with loved ones.
Regina Hiraoka, Eric C. Meyer, Nathan A. Kimbrel, et al., “Self‐Compassion as a Prospective Predictor of PTSD Symptom Severity Among Trauma‐Exposed US Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 28, no. 2 (April 2015): 127–33.
David A. Sbarra, Hillary L. Smith, and Matthias R. Mehl, “When Leaving Your Ex, Love Yourself: Observational Ratings of Self-Compassion Predict the Course of Emotional Recovery Following Marital Separation,” Psychological Science 23, no. 3 (2012): 261–69.
Mark R. Leary, Eleanor B. Tate, Claire E. Adams, et al., “Self-Compassion and Reactions to Unpleasant Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92, no. 5 (2007): 887–904.