Self-compassion is an important aspect of learning to love and care for ourselves and is just as important to cultivating healthy relationships.

Life, and in particular relationships, can be difficult. Some of us are in relationships that feel challenging each day, while others feel mostly positive about our relationships, having moments or seasons where things feel more difficult. Some of us feel we are handling the emotional waves of our relationships quite well, while others feel knocked down by the waves. Regardless of where you are, or how you experience your relationships and circumstances, self-compassion supports and grounds us in ourselves, deepening our capacity for meaningful and honest relationships.

Self-compassion, first and foremost, is a practice. It typically doesn’t just “happen” without intentionality and mindfulness. It involves treating ourselves with the care and kindness we would a dear friend. It means listening to our feelings and needs with care and offering ourselves loving-kindness when we feel we have “messed up” or aren’t living up to our expectations.

When I think of self-compassion, I am reminded of what it’s like to be a child. When a child does something “inappropriate” or has a strong emotional response to something, if the parent invalidates their experience, or tells them they are a burden or to “get over it”, the child learns to disconnect from themselves and their truth, to be accepted. Unfortunately for some of us, this isn’t too hard to imagine.

But a child is most able to grow and flourish in an environment where they are loved and accepted, imperfections and all! This safe and secure environment is foundational to genuine self-esteem and self-love. It is no less important to offer this to ourselves as adults. Self-compassion is needed to grow, change, heal, and flourish, just as compassion from a caretaker is for children.

Research shows us that practicing self-compassion benefits one’s emotional well-being. It helps in reducing depression and anxiety, supports the health of our relationships, and helps us to have a more positive outlook on life. It fosters healthy relationships in a variety of ways:

• Boundaries: Self-compassion is a way we love ourselves. As we love ourselves, we can show others how to love us too, including what works for us, what doesn’t, and what our boundaries are.
• Healthy communication: As we practice communicating kindness and compassion toward ourselves, we are better equipped to communicate this way in our relationships.
• Self-awareness and authenticity: As we practice curiosity about what we feel and how we behave, we deepen our self-awareness. This allows us to communicate what we authentically feel and need in our relationships, which fosters deeper intimacy.
• Self-responsibility: Self-compassion means understanding who we are, what we feel, and why we behave the way we do. As we practice loving kindness towards ourselves, we can become more responsible for ourselves. This includes everything from learning to better regulate our emotions, to being kind and gentle with ourselves even when a relationship doesn’t reflect the same level of kindness.
• Nurturing relationships: As we practice self-compassion, we internalize the loving messages we give ourselves. These include messages that we are worthy, deserve to be heard, and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. When we believe this about ourselves, we are more able to open ourselves to relationships that reflect this as well – that we are worthy to be heard, seen, loved, and respected.
• Self-healing: We carry our particular hurts and experiences into our relationships. Practicing self-compassion promotes self-healing from past hurts, which is another way we take responsibility for ourselves. Furthermore, as we heal and grow, our relationships heal and grow.
• Compassion for others: As we practice compassion towards ourselves for our imperfections or struggles, we are more likely to have compassion and empathy toward others. This allows for greater connection and emotional safety within our relationships.
• Relationship resilience: As we practice self-compassion, we learn to make positive choices for ourselves and see things with curiosity and kindness. This attitude translates to our relationships so that we approach them with curiosity and compassion, seeing the opportunities for growth and possibilities.

Some of these practices may seem easier said than done. Remember – this is a practice! Be gentle with yourself and seek to engage in these often.

• Take time to get curious about what you feel, what you need, and what your behavior is showing you about your inner world.
o Helpful practices for this include journaling, meditation, and asking specific questions about your situation and feelings, as you would a friend.
o It may help to talk things out with a trusted friend or coach.
• Allow the feelings to surface – and practice observing your feelings without judging them.
o Remember to get curious! What are your feelings or actions trying to tell you?
o There is a reason for your feelings and behaviors – they are reflections of something you need or a hurt you are holding. So explore, rather than judge.
• Quiet the inner critic. When the negative voice inside of you tells you your feelings are invalid or judges you for behaving as you did, tell that voice to take a back seat. Instead, remind yourself of your gifts, your ability to make new choices, and other positive messages.
• Remind yourself that you are not alone. Each of us has struggles, as this is what it means to be human. Remind yourself that everyone has feelings of sadness, shame, inadequacy, or low self-esteem sometimes.
• Practice mindfulness. This is a powerful practice that helps us to quiet the mind, and in so doing, we quiet the inner critic and the storm of emotions we may be experiencing. It is how we can allow for self-compassion to become more present within us.

Self-compassion can sometimes feel hard to practice, especially if we don’t always “believe” it. But it is essential to our emotional and relational well-being. There’s a saying in recovery circles that is, “Act your way into right thinking and feeling”. Sometimes, we may need to act a certain way and trust that our feelings and thinking will catch up with our actions over time. This is how it may be as you practice self-compassion.

Remind yourself that you are worthy of love, kindness, and compassion – from you!
If you would like support around this topic or anything else related to cultivating healthy and thriving relationships, please contact us. We are here to support you.
Written by: Jessica Mitchell, MS, Marriage and Family Therapy/Life Coach