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Be Kind to Yourself: Understanding and Implementing Self-Compassion

U.S. Army Spc. Mahalia Reevey, a soldier assigned to the New Jersey Army National Guard, poses in front of a shattered mirror for a portrait. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)

The golden rule encourages you to treat others how you want to be treated. However, can you truly do that if you’re not nice to yourself? The first step before lending a helping hand to others is to be kind to you – practice self-compassion. You can do this by taking steps to understand what being compassionate means.

“To have compassion is to suffer together,” said Deployment Health Clinical Center Clinical Psychologist and Special Assistant to the Director Dr. Christina Schendel. “As humans, we have a capacity to have empathy for other humans or animals. Compassion requires a feeling of wanting to do something.”

You may notice the compassionate gestures of others. Whether it is giving a homeless person something to eat or helping an elderly woman carry groceries to her car, these acts show willingness to react and make a difference.

Areas of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion focuses on three areas:

  • Self-kindness: Being kind to yourself by accepting that mistakes will happen and you can handle them, or develop ways to correct.
  • Sense of humanity: Acknowledging that the human experience is larger than you. Everyone goes through similar, if not the same, difficulties that you do. Awareness can help you process your experiences.
  • Mindfulness: Focusing on the here and now helps you stay active and present in your current situation. Also, not ignoring or exaggerating feelings you have can help you understand how to cope with something difficult or exciting.

“In order to have a self-compassionate attitude you must have a balanced view of your surroundings and yourself,” said Schendel. “Staying present and accepting your life where it is rather than ignoring it helps you become thoughtful and kind to yourself without giving yourself a pass.”

Self-compassionate vs. Self-Centered

Many people have a skewed view of what self-compassion means. Some people confuse this trait with others that focus on self, such as self-indulgent or self-centered. But they are quite different.  Schendel shared that according to research, self-compassionate individuals actually experience less depression, issues of perfectionism and stress. Those who live with a self-compassionate mindset are less likely to:

  • Make excuses for their failures
  • Have low self-esteem or feel self-pity
  • Be overly critical and harsh to themselves

“You will notice increased personal standards, greater creativity and higher levels of confidence in your abilities when you are self-compassionate,” said Schendel.

Improving Your Self-Talk

Now that you know what it means to be self-compassionate, how do you start applying those things to your life?

The first step toward improving self-compassion is to pay attention to how critical you are on yourself. You may find – like many of us — that your self-critical voice is so common that you don’t even notice it. To learn more about your inner voice, ask yourself questions like:

  • What words do I use when I speak to myself?
  • Do key phrases come up constantly?
  • What is my tone of voice? Is it harsh, cold or angry?
  • Does my inner voice remind me of someone from my past?

Your answers to these questions can help you identify where you need to improve in your journey toward self-compassion. If you notice negative self-talk, imagine what a close, supportive friend would say to you, or what you would say to them, and say those things to yourself.

Goals for New Behavior

When you are ready to make long-lasting changes, try to use S.M.A.R.T goals: specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals. Practicing any new behavior is challenging and setbacks happen.  Leverage the technology you use every day to set yourself up for success. Set alarms or daily reminders with motivational words and videos to help lift your spirits. Create a photo album with images that make you smile and feel better about yourself. Or, forgo the electronics and try memorizing compassionate phrases that you can say to yourself throughout the day.

Helpful Resources

The National Center for Telehealth & Technology mobile applications Mindfulness Coach and Breathe2Relax are excellent ways to track your self-compassionate behaviors.

In Mindfulness Coach, you can find educational material on mindfulness as well as nine forms of meditation. Each meditation includes voice-guided instructions, with captions, for self-guided sessions.

With Breathe2Relax, you will learn breathing exercises to help decrease your physical stress response, steady your mood, and control anxiety and anger.

If you want to see how self-compassionate you currently are, Schendel recommends taking this self-compassion quiz.

Comments (3)

  • 46 years ago today, June 7 1971 I was "Medivaced" out of Vietnam with exposure to something that manifested itself as a skin disease, but the medical officers could not, or would not, find the cause. After 3 weeks in our military hospitals at three different facilities, I was medivaced out of Vietnam, and my treatment records hidden for 45 of the 46 years. I had problems with every organ and every system in the body, and had a permanent profile for all those conditions, and was still denied my disability claims in 1983, despite the VA's hired dermatologist's verifications. It is all documented 100%, and always has been, but still denied, and I am still waiting today, exactly 46 years to the day. I was always told my records were lost in transit from Vietnam, and I have the document that says exactly that. Maybe my claims should also be based on my conditions being aggregated by withholding medical evidence? What do you think?

  • Well, it's 46 years ago today, June 7 1971, that I was medivaced out of Vietnam with a skin disease from exposure to something, but no military doctors had a clue what caused it. They issued a permanent profile 3, for the permanent defects in my physical capacity and stamina, but 12 years of constant mental and physical illness prompted me to file disability claims, but I was denied all service connection and refused any medical care. I was hospitalized a month straight, but evacuated out of Vietnam after 3 weeks, ordered to have over 120 days of recovery time to stabilize, but I never received any follow up treatment or physicals although they had no idea what caused my issues. That's the compassion I received, and my treatment records were hidden for 45 years and I was told they were lost in 1971 while intransit from Vietnam, which was not true, and I am still waiting vindication in 2017.

  • Be kind with ourself imply to be kind with all our buddies on need, partecipating to their problems and suffering with, like their problems are ours, for effectively they are ours, they are ours for the problem of one of us is the problem of all. That not only for the spirit of what we call camaradie, but for the humanity is on us that constitute our essence, for our sharing joy and dolors imply that joy are enhanced and potentiate, while dolors diminished, for it is a natural one make ours the problems of any of us. It is our connatural one that of compassion fatigue toward us and our buddies that remember the commandment love others like yourself. And, since we love us, for completely love us we should not avoid to love our buddies who are part of us, who are members of the same family we all constitute. Love require we make ours their problems, we make ours their sufferings as that make us a team, a corp, a only one where all live for others, where we all aid each another, so avoiding to be isles, as, if it is true that man is not a isle, it is more true that warriors are not a isolated one but a together of men living each for others and supporting us each another. That make dolors less weight and potentiate our ability, dexterity, our be a only one constitute by men able to together combat and together win also the enemies derived by TBI, PTSD, suicide thoughts. It is why I say again I am here waiting to read your call. My e-mail address: is yours, is your home, your referring point, the place you may write for ask and receive aid. Be sure mine are no words but a promise, a commitment borning by the desire to aid you, my buddies, no words but a commitment to make aiding a way for combat the enemy we known as suicuide thougts. I am here, have no problems on write and ask. We are a family where any live for others, where we all are a family called Army.

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.