Self-compassion is one of our most complicated emotions, and among our most misunderstood.

A mountain of clinical research and evidence proves that self-compassion can significantly impact your overall well-being, particularly as it relates to stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness is a core element of self compassion. You must acknowledge that you are having a tough time. Yet bringing mindful awareness to  the fact you are navigating turbulent waters, is but half the battle.

Self-Compassion Requires Action

Self-compassion is an element of the human experience that requires action.  Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you’re kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.

Just as it’s critical to understand what self-compassion is and how to integrate it into your practice, it’s equally important to understand what self-compassion is not.

It is not self-pity. Too often we wallow in our own problems to an extent  that we become disconnected from others. We start feeling as if we are the only ones in the world suffering.  When this occurs , we can feel even more alone  and make our suffering worse.

And to be sure, self-indulgence is not a component of self-compassion. “In many cases,” the Center reports, “just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (such as taking drugs, over-eating, being a couch potato), while giving yourself health and lasting happiness often involves a certain amount of displeasure (such as quitting smoking, dieting, exercising).”

Kristen Neff, PhD., a founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion,  offers five tips for practicing self-compassion.

  1. Consider how you’d treat someone else.  Imagine what you’d do if someone you cared about came to you after failing or getting rejected. What would you say to that person? How would you treat them?
  2. Listen to your language.  You may be so used to criticizing yourself that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. If you wouldn’t say the same statements to someone you care about, then you’re being self-critical.
  3. Comfort yourself with a physical gesture.  Kind physical gestures have an immediate effect on our bodies, activating the soothing parasympathetic system, Neff said. Specifically, physical gestures “get you out of your head and drop you into your body,” she said. That’s important because “the head loves to run away with story-lines.” For instance, she suggested putting your hands over your heart or simply holding your arm. Any gesture will do.
  4. Memorize compassionate phrases.  Whenever you find yourself saying, “I’m horrible,” it helps to have a few phrases at the ready. Pick statements that really resonate with you and . combining that with a physical gesture — like hands over your heart  can  make the practice that much more potent.  Commonly used phrases are: May I be free from suffering; May I be at peace; May I live with ease; May I be happy.
  5. Practice guided meditation.  Meditation helps to retrain the brain. This way, self-compassionate gestures and self-soothing become more natural.

Self compassion, like all mindfulness and meditation practices, is a skill honed over a lifetime.

The more you open your heart to the reality that life is fraught with frustrations, limitations, losses and failure — as opposed to fighting against these realities — the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and your fellow humans.