How To Be More Self-Compassionate
Imagine you are holding a two-year-old child. The child has fallen over ー maybe they were pushed. They are crying. You give them a cuddle and reassure them, saying, “Oh, you poor thing. You will be ok.” Maybe you carry them for a bit while they recover from the shock. You soothe them, gently. Maybe you give them a lollipop. Maybe you crack a joke to cheer them up, or maybe you tickle them. Soon enough, the child is grinning, back on their feet, and full of the joys of life once more. They’re ready to run off into the next adventure.
Now imagine that child is you. Next time life pushes you over, imagine that you say to yourself, “Oh, that sucked. But I’ll be ok.” What would you do as the adult responding to your own toddler self? Would you force yourself to get back on your feet sooner than you’re ready? Would you shout at your toddler self for having such a normal and healthy human response to pain? Would you give your toddler self another shove, just because they will never learn how to stop crying otherwise? Or would you treat yourself with kindness, care, and compassion?
Looking after your inner toddler is, in many ways, what self-compassion looks like. It’s what you offer to the part of you that is in pain. The part that is exhausted from being knocked over so many times. It’s standing up to the part of you that might be perpetuating your own struggle through negative self-talk and constant pressure to achieve, perform, and be perfect. To begin with, it involves acknowledging that you are only human, that sometimes life can be tough, and that the expectations placed on us ー whether that is the expectations of others, or those we have demanded of ourselves ー may be far too high.
Whether life has messed with you (it always will at some point), or if you have messed up somehow (we all do sometimes), giving yourself a dose of self-compassion is an important way of recognizing your suffering, acknowledging the way it’s affecting you, and remembering to treat yourself with just as much kindness as you would give to anyone else you care about. If you are not sure what looking after your inner toddler can look like in the real, adult world, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Make it a mindset
Just as meditating involves catching yourself when the mind wanders into thought, self-compassion is a practice of calling yourself out when your inner monologue gets mean. It’s something you can do at any time of the day, in any situation. If you notice yourself indulging in negative self-talk, actively disrupt your thought process ー just as you would pick up the crying toddler when the other kids are being cruel. Audit your compassion practice at the end of each day. Ask yourself: Where did you show kindness to yourself and others? Where could you have cut yourself some slack?
Talk back to your inner critic
You don’t always need to love your inner toddler in order to show them compassion. Sometimes, it can just be a case of protecting them from the bully inside your head – something you would do for a child you didn’t even know. Give the bully a name, like “Frank” for example. How can you let your inner toddler know that they do not deserve to be treated like this, and that you are on their side? What can you say to Frank when things get nasty? Could you fall back on some set phrases to get Frank to back off – such as “I am trying my best”, “I’m only human”, or “I am enough just as I am”?
Create space for your emotions
One of the most damaging things we can do for ourselves and our families is suppress our emotions. Often, this happens because we are either afraid of our feelings, or because we feel guilty and ashamed for having them. Self-compassion involves letting ourselves feel whatever needs to be felt, accepting that emotions are not always rational, and that it’s ok to feel sad when happy things are going on, and vice versa. These emotions will not just go away on their own ー they can get stuck and manifest in other ways, build up, or explode. Instead, you should allow yourself to acknowledge them, feel them, process them, and let them go. Consider trying a boxing class to release some anger, doing some journaling about your fears to work through them, or carving out time to have a really good cry when there is some lingering grief or sadness that you need to get out of your system. Your inner toddler will feel so much better for it.
Make your life easier
Perfectionism, people pleasing, and the multitude of other ways we sometimes ignore our own needs can have us believing we “should” be able to manage a million different things and not drop a single ball. Think about where you could carve out more space for yourself and your loved ones by ditching some of the drains on your time and energy. This can be a simple life hack like buying pre-chopped vegetables that make it easier for you to cook yourself a nutritious meal after work, or it might look like hiring a stylist to find you the perfect wardrobe when body image issues are getting you down. How can you let your inner toddler be carried a little? How can you be creative about lightening the load for them?
Follow the fun
Once you have created a lifestyle that offers you a little more time on your hands, be intentional about filling it with good things. Give your inner child that metaphorical lollipop to remind it that life has many pleasures, and that these are what make the more complicated aspects like pain and hardship worth it. Allow yourself to receive the joy, pleasure, and love that we are here for, and remind yourself that the more we encounter these positive feelings, the more we actually succeed in life. To live a life with more self-compassion, leave your guilt, shame, and unworthiness at the door ー because if you believe that every single person on this planet deserves to be happy and free, that includes you too.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: The Role Of Self-Compassion In Development; Compassion And Self-Compassion: Construct And Measurement; The Scientific Benefits Of Self-Compassion; Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, And Well-Being.
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