Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion

This post went up on my life coaching blog today and it seemed to fit what I wanted to say here as well. I’ve never posted the same post to two different blogs, but in an act of self-compassion, and with hopes that my writing friends will get something out of this post as well, here it is!


“If you long for the world to be a saner, more loving place, please be advised that you must start inside. Care for your sick, anxious, exhausted self as lovingly as you want to care for every suffering thing.”

–Martha Beck, Like Ten Thousand Knives When All You Need is a Spoon

Back when the year was new, I arranged to speak on the topic “Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion.” The talk is tonight (details here.) As a result of agreeing to do this presentation, I’ve been immersed in reading, thinking, and writing about self-compassion lately.

Good thing.

It turns out, I needed some remediation on how to have compassion for myself.

Our culture (here in the US) does not easily allow for self-compassion. We are taught to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” “just do it,” and “no pain, no gain.” That culture of doing it all by ourselves leads to an inability to ask for help and an inability to cut ourselves some slack.

My specific background, from my family of origin to my immersion in the world of medicine—a place where we are taught to ignore everything from our basic needs for sleep and food, to our (just as basic) needs for rest and play—does not easily allow for self-compassion.

And as I write this, I am thinking: Quit whining! This blog post is not about you—you are trying to help people with it!

True. I would like to help people with everything I write. But refusing to recognize my own blind spots and, in this instance, my difficulty with self-compassion will only make me less compassionate with others.

It is only in recognizing our own flaws and accepting them—not in a “Who cares if I’m a slob?” way, but in a “This is who I am. I am not perfect but I am enough,” way.

When I recognize my need for sleep is more important than my need to complete my daily word count, for example, this self-compassion allows me to acknowledge a friend’s inability to complete her writing goal on a particular day and to help her be kind to herself.

If I stay up late and write, no matter the cost to my sleep and my sanity, then I am more likely to judge a fellow writer harshly for choosing to care for herself rather than be a slave to her writing schedule.

My lack of self-compassion, when I fall into it, affects every area of my life. Maybe you occasionally lack compassion for yourself, too.

If you sacrifice your health and wellbeing in order to have the perfect holiday, you will resent the relative who shows up with boxes of chocolates for everyone because they “don’t know what to get.”

If you serve a healthy, nutritious meal every night no matter how long it takes to get it on the table, you will look down your nose (even if just in your head) at the friend who invites you over and then orders pizza because she wants to spend her time talking to you rather than prepping a meal in the kitchen.

That unconscious attitude will interfere with your ability to enjoy your friend and your precious time together.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown states that in order to live a Wholehearted life—and who doesn’t want to live a wholehearted life?—we must love ourselves. It’s a prerequisite.

We cannot give away what we don’t have.

The way I took this message is I need to love myself and have compassion for myself if I want to make a positive difference in the world. Self-compassion needs to be the foundation of everything I do or I will just inflict my lack of compassion on everyone around me.

This is not always easy, because we are like the fish: we don’t notice the water we swim in.

We need to notice how we talk to ourselves all day long. We are not consciously aware of our thoughts (words) most of the time.

We need to become aware.

What are you thinking right now? Does it serve you? If not, try thinking a different thought or just questioning your thought.

If you are thinking, as I often do: I’ll never get it all done, you will feel frantic and behind-the-8-ball all day long.

If you notice the thought, and consciously decide to think: I’ll get everything done that needs to get done, you will start to feel better.

If you do that over and over, you will have a great day and you will spread acceptance, love, and compassion wherever you go.

Here’s the formula:

  1. Think negative thought.
  2. Notice what you are thinking.
  3. Respond with a positive thought (question, response, mantra.)
  4. Notice your next negative thought.
  5. Respond with a positive thought (question, response, mantra.)
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’ve been doing that since I got up and, so far, it’s been a good day. How about you?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hi! I’m so glad to be a part of this community of writers. I don’t always feel like a writer, but I draw inspiration and encouragement from this group of readers and writers every day. Thank you all for being here.


6 thoughts on “Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion

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