How to be kind to yourself

Let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to be 100% kind to ourselves all of the time. Sometimes we might catch ourselves saying or thinking something nasty about ourselves, or being hard on ourselves if we fall slightly short of the expectations that we place on ourselves. Maybe we overthink our actions, wish we looked a certain way or regret how we handled ourselves in that last tricky conversation with a friend. Self-compassion is about accepting that you are human, and that because you merely exist, you have value and you are worthy. Self-compassion is being okay with who you are, even when you make mistakes or things don’t work out perfectly. Being self-compassionate can help to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, improve your sense of self and your ability to think positively about a range of situations.

There are many ways to practice self-compassion, and one of the most helpful ways can begin with how you speak to yourself and the thoughts you believe to be true about yourself. Part of the process of self-compassion is acknowledging that you are human and that it is totally okay to think negatively about yourself, it is simply a normal part of being human. We all struggle with negative self-talk sometimes, and acknowledging that it is a normal human process is key to overcoming it.

Self-compassion is about learning to be okay with not always meeting the high expectations you might place on yourself for work, school and the way you look. You might recall a time where you caught yourself thinking something about yourself, that wasn’t so kind, or something that you would never say to a friend. This is okay, you’re not the only one who has these thoughts. However, a great way to encourage positive self-talk and self-compassion, is to consider if what you’re thinking or saying about yourself, is something you would be comfortable saying to a friend or family member. If you wouldn’t say these things to someone you love, it might be an indication that you’re being hard on yourself.

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All of us have unhelpful thinking styles, however a really useful tool is being able to recognise when you’re thinking unhelpfully about yourself. Some examples of this include having a mental filter, where you only process certain evidence. For example, you only pay attention to the negative things someone might have to say about you, meaning that you focus more on your mistakes than your successes. Another example of unhelpful thinking is disqualifying the positive, where you disregard all of the positive things you’ve achieved and focus only on the negative experiences in your life. It is totally normal to have unhelpful styles of thinking, which is why practising positive self-talk and self-compassion can be really useful, to increase a positive sense of self and encourage mental health and wellbeing.

You can practice self-compassion and self-acceptance by simply noticing the next time you catch yourself thinking or speaking negatively about yourself and reframing it into a more positive light. For example, the thought “I made a mistake at work the other day, I always make mistakes, I am so stupid”, could be reframed into “It’s okay to make mistakes, I am learning from each mistake that I make, and everybody makes mistakes”. The more that you practice being self-compassionate, the more naturally it will come to you.

An aspect of self-compassion is self-acceptance, which has been defined as our ability to be all accepting and encompassing of every aspect of who we are. This includes extending kindness and acceptance to ourselves, even in the face of perceived inadequacy, failures or shortcomings. You can practice self-compassion by first acknowledging any negative or unhelpful thoughts about yourself, and gently challenging yourself to reframe these thoughts or experiences in a more positive light. For example, the thought “I am not good enough” or “I should have done better”, are common thoughts that many of us experience. A really useful tool to develop is the ability to respond to these negative thoughts with self-compassion and self-acceptance.