Be Your Own Best Friend: Learning the Art of Self-Compassion
Written by: Kaitlyn Rowbotham, M.S.
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” – Brené Brown
I don’t know about you, but I am by far my own worst critic. I’m always the first one to beat myself up when I do something wrong or even if I just don’t do it perfectly (which, I know, is ridiculous because nobody is perfect.) It’s usually something small that I lie awake at night thinking about. My brain taps me on the shoulder and says, “Remember that cringy thing that you did today? We’re going to obsess over that for a while.”
Through years of therapy, I’ve been working to develop a critical skill: self-compassion. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Educational Psychology:
“Self-compassion is simply the process of turning compassion inward. We are kind and understanding rather than harshly self-critical when we fail, make mistakes, or feel inadequate. We give ourselves support and encouragement rather than being cold and judgmental when challenges and difficulty arise in our lives.”
Self-compassion is like a muscle; you have to exercise it to develop it. It takes practice, but once you start to cultivate this skill, it can change the way you look at yourself and how you respond to difficult situations. Here are a few things I’ve learned about being kind to yourself.
You are enough
Within my first few therapy sessions, my therapist said something to me that I will never forget. There was a new baby in our family and she asked me to close my eyes and picture holding the baby. Then she asked me if the baby had worth. I said yes, of course, the baby had worth. Then she asked me why. The baby couldn’t do anything yet. It couldn’t contribute in any way to its care. So, why did the baby have worth?
I was slowly starting to see where this was going. I felt tears well up in the corners of my eyes and whispered, “Because the baby exists.”
I’ve had to wrestle with this one a lot over the years. It wasn’t as though a magic switch flipped and suddenly fixed everything. But it was the first major breakthrough I remember having. You are valuable and enough because you exist. That is the first step to practicing self-kindness. You can’t earn your worth, you can’t hustle for it, you can’t people-please your way to it. You just have it, no matter what.
Author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown said, “We live in a culture of scarcity, of never enough. There is only one way out of scarcity – and that is enoughness. At some point we need to say: I am enough.”
That’s the kind of love that we all need to show ourselves. We should never forget that our worth is intrinsic and exists no matter what happens in life, because we are enough just as we are. We don’t need to always hustle and strive – it’s more important to take a minute to recognize and appreciate our own value.
Self-kindness is something we can practice every day, and it starts with understanding that you have worth simply because you exist.
Let go of perfectionism
I like to call myself a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism can seem innocuous – until it begins to take over our lives and prevents us from moving forward. We all want to do our best, but that doesn’t mean everything we do has to be perfect.
Dr. Neff also says, “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
When we let go of perfectionism, we make room for self-compassion and grace. We give ourselves permission to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. That’s the beauty of life! Mistakes are not always a bad thing; they often help us move forward in life. When you remember this, it makes it easier to forgive yourself when something doesn’t turn out as planned.
Brené Brown said, “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun. And fear is the annoying backseat driver.”
Perfectionism is the excuse we use to protect ourselves from getting hurt when, in fact, it’s actually the thing that prevents us from being seen and known. We try to cover up our inadequacies with perfectionism and people-pleasing. But it doesn’t protect us; it only holds us back from growth and connection. My favorite saying is that “life is a classroom, not a test.” We’re not here to either pass or fail. We’re here to learn and grow.
Speak to yourself the way you speak to someone you love
This is another hard one for me. Like I said before, I am my own worst critic, but I’m trying to be less hard on myself.
At a networking event a few months ago, the speaker told us to write down the three most common negative things we think about ourselves. Then she had us move chairs and sit next to someone we didn’t know. We got to know each other for a minute or so, and then she said, “Now I want you to say all those things you said about yourself to your neighbor.”
There was silence for a moment. No one wanted to say those negative things to another person! The speaker then asked us, “If you wouldn’t say that to someone else, why are you saying it to yourself?”
I opened this blog with a quote from Brené Brown, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” The antidote to shame is kindness, and that includes being kind to yourself. You are worthy of your own kindness.
The Crucial Role of Self-Compassion in Kindness
In the tapestry of kindness, one often overlooked thread is the art of self-compassion. Some people may argue that focusing on ourselves contradicts the essence of kindness, that it’s selfish. But another important thing that I’ve learned is that you can’t give what isn’t already there. You know how flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping others in the event of an emergency? The same principle applies here. You can’t spread kindness and positivity as effectively if you don’t have it in your own heart first. You have to give yourself the oxygen of kindness first so that you have stores of it to give to others.
I want to shift the conversation away from self-criticism and toward self-compassion. I believe that when you talk to yourself kindly, you open up space for positive change and growth. Be kind to yourself and watch your life transform!
So, let’s be our own best friends. Cultivating kindness to ourselves is an integral part of our daily acts of kindness. As you embark on your One Kind Act a Day journey, don’t forget that being kind to yourself is not just an act – it’s a profound and necessary extension of the kindness that can change the world, one act of goodness at a time.
About the Author
Kaitlyn Rowbotham was born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley and earned her BA degrees in Communications and English from the University of Utah and an MS in Digital Audience Strategy from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
Kaitlyn has had experience in print and online journalism as well as content marketing. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, writing stories, sewing, hiking, swimming, and running.