By Emily Gibson, MS, LPCC

We all strive for success, but often times our “inner critic” can be too harsh. In order to truly reach our fullest potential, it’s important to practice self-compassion. 

A therapy client, Clara,* came to me for help with healing from a long-term, abusive relationship. This relationship had been very destructive, and she was emotionally, physically, and psychologically abused for years. 

When she talked about her role in the relationship, she would often say things like “I should not have been so angry – it’s all my fault!” Or “I am so stupid that I stayed connected to that person for so long. I should’ve been stronger than that!” It was clear that the abuse had caused her to turn those messages of loathing inward, talking to herself the way her abuser had.

To heal, Clara needed to stop “should-ing” herself and to treat herself with grace, kindness, and caring. To tell that mean inner critic to shut up!

So what the heck does self-compassion look like in real life? 

Self-compassion is being kind to yourself, especially if you’ve found yourself struggling with the turbulent waters of life like so many of us lately. It helps us build resilience, cope with failure better, and ultimately achieve our goals. 

It’s talking to yourself like you would a small child who is only just starting to learn how to be in the world, a child who falls down when learning how to ride a bike, who spills the milk when practicing holding a heavy glass.

It’s the practice of being understanding with ourselves when we make mistakes. It’s also about recognizing our common humanity with other people and having an attitude of understanding that we’re all human and absolutely will all make mistakes, lots of times, as we try to navigate life’s waves. 

Through showing ourselves compassion, we learn how to stay anchored to ourselves. even during difficult situations, and to find strength in what we have rather than what we don’t have. 

So what are some other benefits of practicing self-compassion?

Oh man, there are so many! It can contribute to increased motivation and improved mental health. It helps calm a dysregulated nervous system and relax the tendency towards fight, flight, freeze, and fawn stress reactions. 

Studies show that people who practice self-compassion are more resilient to stress and anxiety than those who do not practice it regularly. Additionally, practicing self-compassion helps us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which enables us to take more effective action in achieving our goals instead of letting fear drive our decisions. As I mention freqently, self-awareness is the foundation of all other healing.

It also helps us build a higher level of empathy for others which can help improve relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances alike. 

Ok, I’m in! How do I do it?

Practicing self compassion isn’t always easy – it takes time to really understand how we are feeling before we can act on it in any meaningful way. 

Here are some steps you can take today towards building a healthier relationship with yourself:

Acknowledge your feelings – the good, bad, the ugly – allow yourself to feel whatever comes up without judgement or criticism.

Talk kindly to yourself – just like you would that small child who is just learning, just like you would with your best friend when they’re feeling down. When faced with difficult situations, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes sometimes; focus on positive messages like “I am doing my best” instead of negative ones like “I should be better at this.”

Take a break – give yourself permission to take breaks from time to time; if something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to step back for some distance before trying again. 

Meditating or journaling about your feelings and staying very present-focused and mindful while doing so can help deepen your connection with yourself over time and silence that harsh inner critic. 

Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of others around us—and sometimes even more so! Practicing self-compassion helps us build resilience against stressors in life while simultaneously improving our mental health overall. 

Self-compassion allows us the opportunity for growth—we learn how to recognize our own emotions better so that we can take meaningful action towards reaching our goals instead of letting fear guide the way. So remember—before anything else—to show kindness towards yourself. With a little bit of patience and understanding, you will soon begin reaping the rewards that come from practicing self compassion!

*Client examples are composites sketches and do not represent any current or former therapy clients.