It Starts with Self-Compassion

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Your Inner Image is King

If we created a word cloud of all the thoughts you had about yourself, what would the most common words be? Are they negative or positive?

In our daily lives, our mind is constantly evaluating the world around us, other people’s behaviors, and the consequences of our own. As life happens, stress gets introduced that can affect the kind of language we use to describe our experiences in our own minds or to others.

The kinds of words and tone we manifest have a profound effect on our perception of the world around us and - most importantly - of ourselves.

For most people, stress mainly appears in our work or in our homes, with each having the unfortunate ability to reinforce each other. Imagine, your boss continually doesn’t recognize the extra hours of work you’ve been putting in and now your husband is getting increasingly annoyed because you’ve had to skip dinner three nights in a row.

A vicious cycle forms where you start to punish yourself for not being able to “do it all”. The words you think to yourself give you no safe space to relax and be reminded of the good things in your life.

This is where having self-compassion can actually save you from then acting out your negative thoughts either consciously or sub-consciously, in self-destructive ways.  

What is Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on the concept of self-compassion, defines it as no different than havingcompassion for others.

She says, “First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is.

“Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly.

“Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”

She further breaks down the three components of self-compassion as

  1. Self-kindness - showing compassion towards others means we don’t judge their short-comings too harshly and understand that as imperfect beings we can’t always get it right. In the same way, we must be allowed to recognize ourselves as imperfect and deserving of a gentle touch.

  2. Common Humanity - To be human means to suffer. We are all connected by life’s ability to introduce suffering in our lives. Understanding this can help you to dispell the myth that “bad things only happen to me”.

  3. Mindfulness - In order to avoid suppressing or overexaggerating our emotions, we need to be able to acknowledge our feelings as they are in a non-judgemental way. Mentally “stepping back” from our thoughts and feelings prevents us from getting swept up in negative emotions. It helps us understand why we act and feel certain ways.

Why Self-Compassion?

“Why self-compassion? Because at the end of every workday if we are tapping into that self-compassion space where we’re not being judgmental, but rather kind to ourselves we’re able to understand as human we make mistakes,” says Dr. Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri.

In everyday life, there is no way we can avoid stress. Part of being self-compassionate is the ability to recognize this so that we are then better able to handle the stress we will take on.

“Instead of [stress] being a sort of trash, we put it away and then come back to it and handle it as human beings do and experience growth,” she continues.

Self-compassion can be a tool to help us put the trash we collect during the day into its proper place. Rather than acting out our frustrations with ourselves on others, we can recognize those feelings for what they are and control our reactions.

But how do we go about acquiring this tool?

Cultivating Self-Compassion as a Habit

The amazing thing about self-compassion it is a learned behavior. The language that makes up our daily narrative can be controlled to change the image we hold of ourselves.

Here are some ways you can begin the habit of self-compassion:

  1. Positive self-talk. You’ve done this countless times in your life whenever you’ve looked into the mirror to give yourself a pep-talk or yell some very personal put-downs. It’s in these moments where we can practice speaking to ourselves in a way that uplifts us, is kind, and forgiving.

  2. Reminder Rituals. Dr. Nelly told us about her reminder ritual,We need to remind ourselves [to be compassionate]. My personal favorite is my ritual of lighting candles every morning, mid today and at nighttime, so several times a day I just make myself aware of the power of light rejuvenation, growth and progress and how important it is to be focused on that and to stay in that mindset.”

  3. Forgive and Grow. The hardest person to forgive is your own self. Not forgiving yourself is trapping yourself in your past and blocking your own growth. Thus, it’s imperative to let go of the need to be perfect, and start looking at your shortcomings or mistakes as information to help you understand how you can grow. Mistakes, errors, and bad decisions don’t necessarily determine your destiny and surely don’t determine your worth. How you choose to forgive yourself and grow does determine your destiny. What is that one thing you know you haven’t forgiven yourself for? While that inner voice is telling you it’s not possible, it can be helpful to start with manifesting that you are going to start working on forgiving yourself for that one thing. Put yourself on the spectrum of forgiveness by declaring you want to forgive, which is the first step in forgiveness. Then as you forgive you feel more self-compassion and experience growth.

  4. Be aware. When you start to be more self-compassionate you can feel an initial rise in difficult emotions. The is called “backdraft.” Just like a backdraft in a fire when oxygen goes in behind a closed door and the fire burst out. Likewise, as you allow more mindfulness and love into your life the pain comes out, and it leaves. This pain is not long-term, rather you are only more aware of what you were holding back. It’s vital that you talk with a friend, partner, or professional when experiencing that pain. Talking about it helps you feel validated.

Its in our most difficult moments that we need compassion the most. When we experience unexpected compassion from a family member, friend, or stranger, it is amazing what that can do to turn around your day, week, or even the rest of your life. Now imagine having the ability to be your own ally, your own caring friend.


Dr. Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri is a keynote speaker and a world-renowned clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and families. Watch her speak live at the MIND Conferences in Los Angeles on March 22nd, 2019.