Self-compassion: How to be a Good Friend to Yourself?


Everyone has had some bad days. It could be from making mistakes at school, at work, or some specific events that caused people to feel generally unpleasant about themselves. Imagine that your friend is having a bad day like that. What would you do to them? You probably would shower them with positive encouragement, bring them their favorite treats, or perhaps offer what you can help them with.

Anyone would love to have a good friend like that. According to Policarpo (2015), three qualities stand out in defining what a “good friend” is. These qualities include being present with you during sad and happy moments, providing support unconditionally when you need it, and being trustworthy. If you think you are a good friend to others, keep it up!   

Now, try to remember the last time you had a bad day like that. Did you respond to yourself the same way you treated your friend? The answer is probably “no”.   

As stated by Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, almost 80% of people are more likely to be kinder to others than to themselves. The tendency to criticize and blame yourself after making mistakes is a sign of someone who lacks self-compassion.  

This article will guide you to understand what self-compassion is as well as offer you simple self-compassion practices that you can try by yourself. Let’s learn how to be good friends to ourselves!

Components of self-compassion

Kristin Neff, the pioneer of the self-compassion concept, defines self-compassion as simple as showing compassion to yourself the way you show compassion for others. In her theory, self-compassion consists of three components that serve as a response when experiencing suffering or feeling like a failure:

Self-kindness vs. self-judgment

Self-kindness refers to treating yourself with tenderness and kindness rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism. Self-compassionate people prefer to be kind to themselves when presented with painful experiences rather than getting furious when life falls short of predetermined standards. They understand that being flawed, failing, and suffering life difficulties are unavoidable.

Common humanity vs. isolation

Common humanity refers to integrating one’s experiences as a part of the wider human experience rather than as lonely sufferings. Self-compassionate people understand that suffering and personal inadequacy are aspects of the universal human experience. In other words, sufferings are not to be seen as punishment for specific people.

Mindfulness vs. over-identification

Mindfulness refers to being aware just enough to recognize unpleasant feelings, as well as not letting oneself exaggerate or generalize negative emotions and thoughts to other irrelevant cases. Self-compassionate people are willing to face their negative emotions and thoughts with openness. The purpose of this component is to give people the time they need to implement self-kindness and establish a sense of connectedness in the middle of suffering.  

Based on the above components, self-compassion can be seen as an effective emotional regulation method. During bad days when people unintentionally make mistakes or bad timings that led them to experience unfortunate events, practicing self-compassion will allow them to cope better under stressful situations.

Self-compassion practices to try

It is important to start practicing self-compassion in your daily life. Several studies have shown that higher scores of self-compassion are associated with better mental health, improved well-being, and can act as a buffer against the emergence of typical depressive symptoms (such as self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification). Here are some ways that you can try out, suggested by Kristin Neff herself!

How would you treat your friend?

This practice is aimed at helping you see the difference when you treat your friend when they are struggling compared to when you treat yourself when you are struggling. You will need two sheets of paper and a pen (or pencil) ready for this practice.  

  1. Think about a time when your friend is struggling with something. Write down on a piece of paper the things you would do and the things you would say (include the tone as well!) to your friend.
  2. Think about a time when you are struggling with something. Write down on another piece of paper the things you would do and the things you would say or think about (include the tone, if possible) to yourself.
  3. Compare the two notes that you have made. Highlight or make notes of the differences you find.
  4. Reflect and ask yourself why the differences exist. Feel free to write down the answers on a new sheet of paper.
  5. Imagine that you treat yourself the way you treat your friend when they struggle. What kind of changes would you feel?

  Some supporting studies can explain how this practice is beneficial. An experiment done by Breines & Chen (2013) showed that when people are made to recall a time when they helped someone, their self-compassion increases. Apparently, showing compassion to others can be used as a kick-start to a self-compassion mechanism. This is possible because self-compassion and compassion for others are positively correlated (Rashid, et al., 2021).

Self-compassion break

This practice is a self-talk session aimed at helping you evoke the three components of self-compassion when you need it. You don’t need any particular tools for this practice.  

  1. Imagine a difficult situation you experienced. If possible, recount it with details to the point you may feel discomfort in your body.
  2. Phrases to say:
  • “This is a moment of suffering” (to evoke the mindfulness component).
  • “Suffering is a part of life” (to evoke the common humanity component).
  • “May I be kind to myself” (to evoke the self-kindness component); can be accompanied by soothing gestures (i.e. hands on chest).

Exploring self-compassion through writing

This practice is aimed at sending yourself a letter full of compassion. This self-help method has been chosen as a favorable option to allow people who are having barriers to accessing mental health services receive psychological intervention (Wong & Mak, 2016). You will need some pieces of paper (as many as you may need) and a pen (or a pencil).  

  1. Write down things about yourself that you find inadequate or you dislike. It could be about physical outlooks, school/work-related issues, relationships, etc.
  2. What sorts of emotions do you feel when thinking about your “negative side”? Write them down as they are.
  3. Think about a friend, or an imaginary friend, who is unconditionally kind, caring, and very compassionate. This friend knows everything about you, including the qualities you just wrote down.
  4. Write a letter to yourself, but from the perspective of this compassionate friend. They genuinely care about you, accept all your “flaws”, and would wish for your happiness.
  5. After finishing writing your letter, put it down. Leave it be for some time, could be hours or a couple of minutes. When you read it, allow yourself to feel the compassion flowing through the letter.

In conclusion

Next time you find yourself having a bad day, remember that you will be fine. With the three simple practices explained in this article, you can practice self-compassion by yourself anywhere and anytime you prefer. Now, you can also be a good friend to yourself!

If you would like to take your reading on self-compassion further, check out the Wellbeing Science Labs. Using the research of the Institute for Life Management Science, the lab produces courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other learning materials. Visit the Wellbeing Science Labs today.

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