The Practice of Self-Compassion
Written by Talia Cecchele
Whoever said we are meant to be perfect? Kindness and understanding goes a long way when we care for others, but what about when we are faced with challenging situations or emotions? Practicing self-compassion can change the way we think about ourselves and help us to process feelings and negative situations in a more positive way.
Compassion means to “suffer with” (1). It is that feeling that arises when we perceive another person’s pain and in response we care for them and try to make them feel better.
Self-compassion is the exact same but the feeling is directed inwards towards ourselves. It is about treating ourselves with kindness and a non-judgmental understanding towards any personal threats or challenges. It is acknowledging (rather than neglecting) a situation or emotion and accepting that this is part of being human. We will encounter uncertainty, and frustration and we will make mistakes. That’s what makes us human.
Self-compassion is composed of three interlinked elements (2):
1. Self-kindness in situations of pain or failure instead of self-judgement and punishment
2. Common humanity as opposed to feelings of isolation, remembering that failure and imperfection are all part of being human
3. Mindfulness whereby a person is fully aware of those painful thoughts rather than being overly reactive or avoidant of them
If you suffer from body image concerns or an unhealthy relationship with food, learning to practice self-compassion can be an important part in the recovery process. We know people will commonly feel guilt or like they have failed after an episode of over-eating, emotional eating or breaking a diet rule. A usual response is to think “why have I eaten this much?” “I feel gross.” “I don’t deserve eating this.” You might tell yourself that you will “start again tomorrow.” I commonly see people as a result skip breakfast the next day, start a restrictive diet or only allow particular foods after exercise. It is easy to get stuck in a guilt-restrict cycle.
By practicing self-compassion you can learn to accept difficult situations for what they are… a learning experience. Here are some tips to get you started:
Give yourself permission to be imperfect, we’re not going to get it right every single time, whether it is a project you are working on, your exercise routine or what you eat in a day
Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Keeping a journal can help to transfer some of that negative self-dialogue onto paper
For any negative or critical thoughts or words you speak, replace them with thoughts or words of kindness
Start the day by either writing or saying out loud something kind about yourself (you can keep a collection of these written on sticky notes, in a journal or a box)
Remember to breathe and connect to your surroundings. There are lots of different breathing techniques to explore or guided meditation can be really helpful
Practice self care, even something as simple as taking a moment to make a cup of tea, taking a bath or buying some flowers
There are some fantastic resources about practicing self-compassion available from Kristen Neff including guided breathing and meditation work.
Self-compassion is a learning process. If you are struggling with body image, your relationship with food or have any other mental health concerns please reach out for professional advice and support.
~ Whoever said we are meant to be perfect? ~
1. Strauss C et al. What is compassion and how can we measure it? A review of definitions and measures. Clinical Psychology Review. 2016; 47:15-27.
2. Neff K. Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self and Identity. 2003; 2:85-101
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.