How to cultivate self-compassion (and why it's important)

It’s about dropping harsh self-judgment and treating ourselves with understanding and kindness. Crucially, the heart of it is believing we are unconditionally worthy of love and self-acceptance, with no conditions attached.

A really simple way to start doing this is to ask yourself what you’d say to a good friend you care about. If they were telling you they’d messed up on something or felt like they’d let themselves4 young women holding hands supportively in a circle or others down in some way, what would you say to them?

Accepting that something didn’t quite go the way it should, or that they’ve said or done something unkind that they now feel badly about but showing them that it doesn’t lessen their worth in any way, is showing compassion and a good dose of empathy too.

In essence, we just need to apply the exact same approach to ourselves. Every time we notice we are starting to berate ourselves, take a breath, and replace it with what you’d be saying to your friend in the same situation. It can feel uncomfortable, or even pointless, to start with, but with a bit of intentional practice and persistence, it will start to feel more instinctive, and well, just normal.

Here are some other steps to practice:

1.  Acknowledging and feeling difficult emotions

No one likes feeling upset, but we can learn a lot from those times. We also get to choose how we respond to a situation or event – no one can make us feel upset, angry, happy, or sad, it’s within our power to choose how we respond to something. It takes practice (spot a theme here?), but once we realise it’s always been within our own control, we do feel…well, more in control.

2Identify any false or unhelpful beliefs you have about yourself

This one requires real honesty – it doesn’t have to be with anyone other than yourself of course, but the more honest you can be the better. Can you absolutely prove that all the beliefs you hold about yourself are categorically true? What evidence do you have, or is it just something you’ve accepted as true without questioning? Don’t be surprised if you’re a bit stumped on the actual evidence part!

We all hold beliefs about ourselves that are often less than helpful, or even mean-spirited and cruel. But again, if your best friend told you such a belief about themselves, what would you think or say to them?  

3Start replacing or changing false beliefs

Once you’ve worked out some of those negative or false beliefs, try writing them down and finding a new, more compassionate way of looking at it. This is sometimes known as creating a new truth. For example:

False belief: I am hopeless at x, y, or z, which makes me a useless person.
New truth: I don’t yet know how to do x, y, or z well, but I can practice and improve. Until then, I’m doing my best and there is no evidence that I am a useless person.

False belief: I argued with my friend and now she/he/they aren’t talking to me. That means I’m a bad person.
New truth: I was angry, and I argued with my friend. I am human and sometimes I make mistakes or say things I wish I hadn’t. I can apologise to my friend. It has no bearing on my worth as a person or friend.

Just by trying some or all these techniques, you are on your way to cultivating a stronger sense of self-compassion. There’s no doubt they will also help you feel more compassionate towards others around you too, so everyone wins.

For more on developing self-compassion, you can also check out the resources and guidance here