• Eve Kagan

Cultivating Self-Compassion

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama


Image credit Shepard Fairey


Today is the 85th birthday of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. I can imagine no better day than this one to celebrate self-compassion!


We are incredibly hard on ourselves. Whether we have experienced trauma or feel stuck in shame, that inner critical voice can be deafening and devastating. One way to turn the volume down on that self-judgment is to practice self-compassion.


What is self-compassion?


Self-compassion is when we develop warmth, understanding, and care for ourselves when we are in pain, fail, or feel inadequate. Rather than ignoring, dismissing, invalidating, or criticizing our suffering, we recognize it and tend to ourselves with loving-kindness. We treat ourselves with the same comfort and tenderness we would offer to a friend.


Self-compassion is not conditional; it is not contingent upon anything. Self-compassion does not demand achievement, perfection, or grandiosity. Self-compassion is not competitive, nor is it finite. Compassion is boundless: you can have it for yourself and others, always. Self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence; it is not wallowing in our emotional state or grasping for anything to numb the pain. Self-compassion is wishing yourself the same well-being you wish for others: health, healing, love, ease, kindness.


How do we practice self-compassion?


Recognize that we all suffer. Suffering is a part of the human condition. It can help to remind yourself that you are not alone in your experience of pain.

Acknowledge feelings without clinging to them. Thoughts and emotions rise and fall. It is possible for us to observe them, without judgment, without attaching ourselves to them. Feelings are not facts: we can validate them without identifying with them or allowing them to dominate our experience.


Ask yourself, how would I treat a friend? What would you say to soothe a friend who was caught in a cycle of self-hatred, who could only see their weaknesses and judged themselves harshly? Maybe you would remind them of their humanity, or their strengths and positive qualities. Maybe you would simply acknowledge them with an open heart.


Consider a kind phrase. What might you say to a friend in pain? What do you need to hear when you recognize you are suffering?


The following is a self-compassion exercise to try when you are in pain.


Self-Compassion Exercise


When you feel distress, discomfort, or pain within yourself, I invite you to notice it.


I invite you to bring your attention to the emotions that arise.


I invite you to notice the sensations in the body.


I invite you to label the feeling as suffering.


I invite you to place your hands against your heart.


I invite you to feel what it is like to be held.


I invite you to choose a simple compassionate phrase to say to yourself:


I accept myself as I am.

I am valuable.

I am strong.

I matter.

I am worthy of love.

I am capable.

I am enough.


I invite you to rest for a few moments with the phrase in mind.


I invite you to hold the intention of compassion for yourself.


I invite you to notice how you feel.


I hope this self-compassion exercise helps you find a moment of happiness and an opportunity to celebrate offering yourself loving-kindness!


For more information about therapy with Eve, visit here.

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