When a loved one comes up to you asking for help, advice, or just to be there for them, you’d normally find it easy to drop whatever you’re doing and offer a crying shoulder. You might even go out of your way to do something nice just to cheer them up. Trying to lift up their spirits seems to come naturally, as though you are suddenly possessed of the right words to make them feel loved, worthy, and cared for. Why is it that when you’re struggling, you find it hard to show yourself the same compassion and empathy?
Most people fall into the trap of looking after others while neglecting to look after themselves. What they often fail to realize is that to treat oneself with compassion is what allows them to extend that same compassion others need. Think of it this way: in a plane, passengers are reminded to put on their oxygen masks first when an emergency occurs. This is because you won’t be able to help the person next to you if you can’t breathe. Therefore, practicing self-compassion is akin to breathing; it’s something everyone needs to stay healthy and alive.
For many people, practicing self-compassion can be difficult. There are various factors that lead to his unhealthy mindset, primarily mixed messages about societal, cultural, familial, and even personal expectations. This makes it hard to acknowledge your own struggles, and you might be left feeling like you have no choice but to suck it up. The problem with this is that you’ll only be able to endure so much. Eventually, this can take a toll on your relationships, career, mental health, and even physical health.
While learning how to practice self-compassion won’t happen in a day, there are small but significant steps you can take to start being kinder to yourself. Consider trying out these self-compassion exercises to begin improving your overall well-being.
People often have the tendency to remember negative traits, events, and memories better than positive ones. This is because these negative things are usually accompanied by strong emotions such as anger, disappointment, and regret. Receiving some form of punishment is also used as a disciplinary tactic to make people “learn their lesson” and prevent them from making the same mistakes in the future. This makes it easy to talk to yourself in a negative manner when you feel as though you’ve done something wrong.
Ask yourself this: what if it’s your friend or a loved one telling you that they made a huge mistake? Would you berate them, seeing as they’re already in distress? Would you put salt in the wound by telling them how much they messed up? Or would you rather tell them that you’re sorry they’re going through this and you’ll help them find a solution? That they might just need to cry it out before they pick themselves back up again? Imagine you’re that friend you’re talking to. Tell yourself what you would tell them when faced with the same situation.
As an adult, you likely feel a burdensome weight on your shoulders. There are so many things you’re supposed to do, but at the same time, there are so many things you’re not allowed to do — or you’re not allowing yourself to. Messing up as an adult can be difficult to accept and even harder to heal from, especially when it involves your responsibilities. You might even repeatedly punish yourself for “not knowing any better.”
If a child makes mistakes, would you punish them in the same way you punish yourself relentlessly? Imagine yourself as a kid. Imagine that you’re going through all these struggles as that kid. Wouldn’t you want to give that child a hug and tell them that there’s actually nothing wrong with making mistakes? From time to time, give yourself that hug. Tell yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone else does, don’t they?
When you feel stressed, you might lash out at the people around you or even yourself. You’ve had an incredibly tiring day and the smallest irritants can drive you to the edge of your patience, but you feel as though there’s still so much work to still be done, so you keep pushing yourself. You can’t catch a break, but you’re not letting yourself “slack off” either. When you do get a chance to pause, you might feel as though you don’t deserve it because whatever effort you exert is still not enough.
Remember that even the most technologically advanced machines need to take breaks for repairs and maintenance. Otherwise, they’ll cease to function eventually. As a human being, you need to realize that breaks are necessary, so you can realign, recalibrate, and prepare for a new day. This applies not only to your physical well-being but also to your mental and emotional well-being.
Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is to forgive your own shortcomings. Constantly reminding yourself of what you did wrong won’t change what already happened. The past is not there for you to keep going back to it — it’s there so you can move on from it and emerge as a better person. As you would forgive an apologetic friend, forgive yourself, so you can heal and allow yourself to receive the self-compassion you need.
How you treat yourself can reflect how you also treat others. If you’re too hard on yourself, you might have the tendency to be overly critical of those around you. Similarly, if you keep neglecting yourself and only pay attention to others’ needs, you might end up resenting them in the long run. Being kind to yourself might not come easily, but when you make a habit of practicing these self-compassion exercises, you will be able to balance both interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.