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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

Self-compassion as part of mental health and emotional self-care

Compassion means to suffer with; and as such, self-compassion means to suffer with yourself!

To feel compassionate with yourself, you need to open your heart to the suffering which in the name of self-protection can be really difficult for most. No one likes to feel inadequate or to admit that they are struggling, but the truth is that no one goes through life without.

I found that the need for self-compassion rose significantly in my days as an expat; very few people around me truly appreciated the often rather stressful reality of my experience of living abroad and as such, I often felt profoundly lonely. It would have been tempting to apply a “head down and soldier on mentality”; and believe me, I tried.

When I did, I found that I was able to keep the difficulties and worries at bay… However, after some time, they would always bounce back to haunt me – and often with a much stronger force. I needed to be kinder to myself, and self-compassion became an object of interest to me.

Research done by Professor in educational psychology, Dr. Kristen Neff and others shows that people who have the ability to remain self-compassionate in times of difficulty lead healthier and more productive lives than people with high levels of self-critique.

When we apply self-compassion, we allow ourselves to connect with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. We begin to see ourselves clearly and gain a wish to make appropriate changes to our lives to reach our full potential. Furthermore, the security and self-worth gained from practicing self-compassion are stable and reliable once established. And from that comes strength.

So how can you enhance self-compassion?

Embrace your humanness – no one is perfect; why should you be? Perhaps a harsh, not very compassionate remark, but to become more self-compassionate, we need to begin viewing ourselves as part of a greater scheme: humanity.

Below, a few tips on how to begin practising self-compassion:

  • We will all suffer losses, feel inadequate at times, fail and experience challenges so overwhelming we can’t see a way through. Rather than fighting this, being judgmental or ignoring your emotions around this inevitable fact of life, be caring and kind to yourself: What would a warm, caring friend say to you in such situation?

  • Remind yourself that it's a human condition to experience feelings of loss, inadequacy, disappointment, and suffering. It’s easy to convince yourself, that others have perfect lives, but when reminding yourself that suffering is a generic human condition, you become part of a bigger picture of humanity making it easier to function with rather than fight against your struggles.

  • Embrace, but try not to indulge on and over-identify with the negative emotions, but aim to strike a balance where they are put into a greater perspective.

  • When you want to make a change; for instance, keeping up your new year’s resolutions, do so because you want to treat yourself the best possible way, not because you deem yourself worthless as you don’t exercise enough, don’t eat well enough, weigh too much, don’t have the highest qualification, earn enough money, or whatever you might beat yourself up about.

Learning to be self-compassionate is a life-long learning curve, but due to our plasticity, you can train yourself to become better at not automatically going into being hard on yourself when things go wrong. It takes time and practice, but wouldn't it be lovely to become your own best and most supportive friend?

And speaking of friends, remember to reach out when you're struggling ... again, you won't be the only one, and chances are others might be more compassionate with you then themselves.

A heart in the sand

First published Jan 2022, edited Dec 2023.


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