How to Treat Yourself with Compassion

In our fast-paced, goal-oriented world, it is easy to criticize yourself if you fail to achieve the goals you set for yourself, even if you are not at fault. For some of us, that criticism may even becoming punishing self-flagellation which is often counter-productive and damaging. Constant self-criticism and denigration can lead to self-destructive behaviors like social isolation and substance abuse.

That is why it is important to maintain a healthy sense of compassion—toward others and yourself. By accepting that everyone is imperfect and recognizing that mistakes are growth opportunities, you will not only develop a healthier attitude toward yourself, but you will also find yourself more willing to accept the flaws in others.

To many people, it may appear that self-acceptance and compassion are capitulation, but psychologists agree that this positive attitude contributes to improved mental health and higher life satisfaction. This translates into better overall health for people who are struggling with health conditions like chronic pain.

Silencing Your Inner Critic

It is easy to get into the habit of focusing on the missteps that contributed to a blunder, but a 2010 study found that people who fixate on their mistakes are much more likely to suffer from depression. Instead of thinking about your flaws over and over, you should instead

  • Practice forgiveness—rather than emotionally punishing yourself for your mistakes, accept that you are a flawed individual and embrace your shortcomings. You should try to avoid the habit of congratulating yourself when you achieve a milestone; you don’t want to derive your self-worth from your performance.
  • Emphasize personal growth—while it isn’t healthy to predicate happiness on achievement, it is just as unhealthy to avoid challenges in order to prevent failure. It is important to embrace challenges as opportunities to grow as a person rather than as another notch on a self-worth metric.
  • Be thankful—rather than fixating on what you are lacking, focus on the many positives you possess. You may want to express your gratitude for your many blessings by writing them in a journal or letter, or by meditating on them while on a scenic walk.
  • Give back—generosity is a powerful way to employ compassion. Recognizing a need in others and taking steps to meet that need can boost your compassion, as long as your giving doesn’t mean ignoring your own needs. So while you are helping others, be sure to enjoy yourself and be generous with yourself.
  • Mindfulness—this potent form of meditation has been shown to improve self-compassion. The focus of mindfulness is to remain in the moment while avoiding value judgments which can promote self-criticism.

Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Like most skills, self-compassion takes time and repetition to master. It may feel awkward at first, but as you continue to practice self-compassion, it should become more natural. Here are some ways to put that self-compassion into action.

  • Appreciate the little things—it is easy to feel good about the major milestones that you achieve, but it may be much more out of character to appreciate the less notable achievements like remembering a friend’s birthday or bringing good cheer to a relative in poor health. You may not receive the same accolades from those around you, but these minor accomplishments may prove much more satisfying in the end.
  • Keep a journal—writing about your day on a regular basis can help bring your life into proper perspective. Try to make it a habit to write at least something every day even if you are tired or the day was uneventful.
  • Get a good night’s rest—make time for you to sleep. It is easy to sacrifice sleep for some task that seems important, but getting enough sleep is an investment in the next day as well as a reward for the many positive things you achieved today.
  • Embrace your mistakes—it is far too easy to berate yourself for that social faux pas or professional blunder, so take the more constructive avenue of forgiving yourself. Recognize that you made a mistake and tell yourself that you are entitled to be human. After all, you wouldn’t hold your friends to a superhuman standard, so you should treat yourself as a friend.
  • Reach out to someone—it may seem like a waste of time, but calling or emailing someone you were once close to but have lost touch with can be an excellent way to ground yourself in reality. It is far too easy to silo yourself inside a professional project or personal goal that is less important than you think it is; talking to someone who is completely divorced from that setting can help reset your priorities to something that is more balanced and healthy.
  • Cook a good meal—it may seem quite mundane to go shopping for fresh foods, prepare them and then create a delicious meal, but cooking is an excellent way to decompress.  Cooking yourself a good meal is a powerful way of saying you value yourself.
  • Play with a pet—it is quite rewarding to spend time with an animal that can return your affection. Not only is a loving pet an outstanding outlet for your affection because you get an immediate response, but they are an excellent surrogate for yourself.
  • Spend some time at the gym—it is difficult to make room in your schedule to visit the fitness center, but it is almost always worth it. Not only will you burn off some calories, but you will better about yourself due to the endorphin bump you get from working up a good sweat. In the long run, the time you spend making your body stronger and fitter will help you perform better throughout the day.
  • Turn off social media—it is fun to know how others are faring in life, and social media can often serve as a window into those lives. However, Facebook and Twitter can become toxic if it produces unhealthy feelings of inadequacy which is why you may want to avoid it if you can.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.