8 Life-Changing Things That Happen When You Practice Self-Compassion
Raise your hand if you’ve ever toooootally lost your shit on somebody…and immediately regretted it?
I’m not proud of it, but my hand is WAYYY up in the air.
In fact, I still cringe when I think of the way I went bat-shit crazy on my husband last summer. We were getting ready for suuuper exciting trip abroad, and the night before we left, we figured out all the stuff we needed to do and when we had to get out the door. My husband is infamous for running late, but I made him promise over and over that he would be on time.
Spoiler alert: he wasn’t. Another spoiler alert: I. Blew. Up. I was yelling and screaming and calling him names and saying a bunch of things I 1000% regretted. And afterward, I felt guilty and ashamed and kept telling myself crap like: “How could I do this?!? I’m a life coach…I’m supposed to be stronger than this!”
And ya’ know what? Beating myself up over and over did NOTHING to help me and my relationship heal. Just like it’s equally unhelpful when you try to make yourself feel good about whatever you did by thinking, “That person totally deserved it!” or “Who cares if I f-ed up that marketing report? F what all my co-workers think!”
In fact, there’s only one road you can take that will actually let you move on from that shitty experience: the middle road of self-compassion.
What Is Self-Compassion? My Suuuuper Easy Answer
Now, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you already know that the FOUNDATION of my practice is compassion. Compassion lets us connect to ourselves and others, heal from the inside out, feel confident enough to take risks, and navigate our imperfect lives with love. And self-compassion is the heart of all compassion…because, if we’re being totally honest, we are always soooo much harsher on ourselves than others.
In fact, I like to call self-compassion your invisible best friend. When you practice self-compassion, you’re being your OWN bestie. Which means that even if you totally screw the F up, you offer support and love, rather than tons of shame or blame. (Just picture how your treat that one friend who you absolutely addddooore…but who’s always getting back with her cheating ex. You don’t scream at her, right? But you probably show her a lil’ tough love. You remind her that she deserves better. You help her feel confident enough to finallllly delete that jerk’s number from her phone and say “yes” to a date with that cute co-worker instead. But you let her know that you’ll still love her…even if she slips up again. Showing yourself self-compassion when you screw up is a lot like that!)
Here’s the coolest thing about self-compassion, though. Over the years, I’ve noticed it changes WAAAAAY more than just how I talk to myself after being a total asshole to the people I love. Practicing mindful self-compassion has honestly transformed my whole life.
Which is why today’s post is all about eight ammmmazing things that happen when you start sprinkin’ some self-compassion into your daily life, from letting you break free from perfectionism to giving you the power to handle anything – and I mean anythaaaang – that’s thrown your way!
Self-Compassion Benefit #1: You spend a loooot less time and energy explainin’ yourself and your life!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to just DO things without feeling like you need to justify why?
I had no idea how freakin’ freeing it would feel…until I started doing some self-compassion exercises and BOOM. It just happened! Instead of spending hours and way too much emotional energy over-analyzing and justifying everything I did, I started to just, well, live.
The more I think about it, though, the more this secret benefit of self-compassion makes total sense. When you can think critically about the integrity of your actions, accept when you make mistakes and show yourself kindness, you don’t need to prove or justify or defend yourself to anybody.
Because you know, “Hey, I was right at calling out Justin for that sexist comment” or “I realllly shouldn’t have eaten all that chocolate, but I’m not a pig. Just tired and stressed. And I can still do better tomorrow.”
And if you do reflect on your actions and realize you were maaaajorly in the wrong…you’ll apologize. BUT that apology won’t come from a desperate place where you need that person’s approval. It’ll come from sincere contemplation – and that will help you and that person move forward waaaay better than any “desperate” apology ever will.
Self-Compassion Benefit #2: You can finally ditch your perfectionism.
If you’re like a lot of people in my tribe, you’ve spent your whole life trying to do everything “right.” You aced all your classes in high school and college. You snagged a supppper impressive job and work your ass off to do it well. You might even think your perfectionism is what makes you so successful…
…but here’s a newsflash. NO ONE is perfect and EVERYONE makes mistakes. And since mindful self-compassion helps you embrace those facts, it makes it easier for you to move forward after your own mistakes, instead of feeling paralyzed by perfectionism. Plus, since it takes a ton of energy to chase that impossible goal of being perfect, you have a lot more energy to actually enjoy life when you ditch perfectionism!
Self-Compassion Benefit #3: It’s easier to give people in your life some extra love and understanding.
No one gets along with everyone 100% of the time. But when you can practice acceptance and understanding and loving of yourself in a situation where you weren’t your favorite person, you can do the same for other people, too.
In fact, I rely on my experience of practicing self-compassion ALLLLL the time when I’m visiting home during the holidays. One of my family members is exactly like how I used to be: she yells and screams and tries to manipulate people on a very regular basis. And, to be honest, it’s reallly easy to get annoyed or frustrated by her.
But then I remember what self-compassion taught me. It made me realize that when I was acting like a crazy lunatic, it felt like an out-of-body experience and I was totally out of control. That realization let me actually feel bad for that Caitlin because those horrible experiences felt like watching the worse version of me take control. And if I apply that understanding and compassion to this family member in my life, I can forgive them a lot easier and get allll of my power back.
Because here’s the thang about anger. When you’re angry at someone, they have all the power. They control how you feel because every time you see them, you’re overwhelmed by anger and all sorts of negative vibes. But when you forgive them by understanding why they are the way they are and by showing compassion for their situation, you don’t have to carry all that negative shit around…which makes your life a whole lot less smelly!
Self-Compassion Benefit #4: You stop trying to change people.
How many times have you ever wished you could change someone in your life? That you could help your dad stop drinking too much or make your boyfriend less of a procrastinator?
I know I’ve been 100% guilty of that mindset. But being able to really reflect on the moments when I was a less-than-ideal version of myself made me realize that it would’ve been realllllly hard for someone else to change my behavior. More sleep, more mindfulness and less stress could’ve helped me change. But I was the only one who could make those changes. No one else could force them on me.
And those realizations let me think, “OK. I’m not going to try to change this person. I’m gonna set boundaries with this manipulative family member in my life and let them know that if they’re cursing at me or lying, they aren’t welcome in my house. And I’ll invite them to be more honest or more kind or more whatever. But I’m not gonna waste tooons of time and energy trying to make them a less angry person, if that’s who they choose to be.”
It’s seriously amaaaaazing how emotionally freeing it felt to give up my “responsibility” to “improve” the people around me. Would it be nice if certain people improved their lives? Yes. Would I be willing to help? Absolutely, as long as they ask for my support. But does my own health and happiness and sense of self-worth depend on those people’s life choices? A big, heck no!
Self-Compassion Benefit #5: You stop running on the hamster wheel of self-improvement and start enjoying who you already are!
Take a moment, and I just want you to think about how freakin’ RADICAL this idea is. After all, people spend billions of dollars every year to try to be cooler and smarter and healthier and sexier and whatever. And whoooole industries depend on us feeling inadequate as we are and “needing” to change.
That’s why self-compassion can be so crazy powerful. It makes it possible for you to see allll of these countless ways you can “be better” and say, “You know, I don’t need to be perfect. It’s OK to love myself as I am.”
Think back to the example I gave earlier of blowing up on my husband this summer. After that happened, I could’ve done toooons of things to “fix” myself. I could’ve booked an emergency therapy appointment or loaded up on supplements that promised to “boost my mood.” But instead, I just turned to self-compassion. I was able to love and release the version of me that happened in that moment, make peace with my man, and enjoy my life (not to mention, my vacation!).
Self-Compassion Benefit #6: You learn to cope with any shit that is thrown your way.
What’s the worst thing in the world that could ever happen to you? A family member dying? Losing your job? Ending up alone for the rest of your life? Whatever your biggest fear is, I can guarantee one thing: you fear it soooo much because you think “I could never handle that” or “that would be too much.” And those fears emerge from having certain expectations about how you should be able handle those situations or that those situations should’ve gone differently in the first place.
Alllll that changes when you practice mindful self-compassion. Self-compassion lets you be understanding and accepting of yourself in that cruddy situation. Most importantly, self-compassion lets you give yourself permission to cope imperfectly, even if, in a perfect world, healing from a terrible breakup or a lost job wouldn’t involve crying everyday or sleeping 12 hours a day.
Basically…if you want to turn into a ninja at handling negative situations, self-compassion is the ultimate secret weapon.
Self-Compassion Benefit #7: You experience a looooot less anxiety, depression and just overall “bleh” or “bad” days.
Like I’ve talked about countless times before, SO MUCH of our anxious, negative or unhappy feelings are created by our own, hurtful beliefs. The belief that we have to be a certain way. Or, that we should be different than we are.
Since self-compassion is all about acceptance and understanding, it’s pretty much the opposite of anxiety and depression. And science backs me up! Studies show that people who practice MORE self-compassion experience LESS depression and anxiety. So maybe those crazy expensive medications, therapy sessions or doctor’s appointments aren’t actually what you need to heal. Maybe the power to actually LOVE yourself and your life has been in you all the time…and it starts by accepting who you are right now!
Self-Compassion Benefit #8: You actually kick ass at your goals without struggling soooo freakin’ much.
A lot of people think that if they keep beating themselves up for not going to the gym or skipping out on their morning meditation, they’ll stop doing that horrrrrrible thing and actually start slaying their goals.
But constantly beating yourself up about your mistake actually makes life a millllion times worse.
What do I mean? Well, let’s consider my moment of crazy from last summer. After that happened, I could’ve told myself: “OK, I never want to be that much of an asshole to my hubby again. So I’m never gonna forgive myself and I’m always keep that memory in my mind. That’ll keep me from doing it ever again.”
But that approach wouldn’t stop me from acting like an asshole. Instead, it would make that action a core part of my identity. So, I’d live in fear of becoming that person and in self-hatred of who that person is.
Here’s how practicing self-compassion looks different. Instead of beating yourself up, you say something like, “I know I didn’t act with integrity, but I love myself and I accept myself. And I know I sometimes do stupid stuff, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to have an incredible marriage or be a less stressed out, angry person. And this one stupid act doesn’t cancel out all the good I’ve done in this relationship and in other parts of my life.”
When you use self-compassion to approach moments when you stray from your goal, you don’t have to feel like you’ve ruined EVERYTHING by making one mistake. You can recognize that the consequences may suck…but you can still make progress toward that goal.
Why Kindness – Not Criticism – Is The Key to Achieving Goals
And you’ll be making even more progress toward that goal because you’re showing yourself love. Love is the kindling that ignites that inner fire of motivation. Just think of a little kid. If you scream at them for falling off their bike, they’re more likely to run and hide than feel motivated to try again. But if you show them how they weren’t pedaling fast enough while still acknowledging how freakin’ hard they were trying and that it takes everyone a few falls before they learn, they are going to get right back on that bike. And as a bonus, they’ll also have learned something – AKA, how to pedal like a pro! – along the way.
So you aren’t “losing” anything by replacing self-criticism with self-compassion when you’re trying to achieve your goals. You can still achieve that happy marriage or that regular gym schedule or that meditation habit. You just do so out of love and the belief you deserve something better, rather than shame over your past or present behavior.
How You Can Start Practicing More Self-Compassion RIGHT NOW
Self-compassion is pretty freakin’ awesome, right?!? But I know what you might be thinking: “Ummm, Caitlin, that’s great and all. But how the heck do I start adding some self-compassion to my life!?!”
Well, one of my favorite self-compassion exercises is letter writing. Here’s how it works. Close your eyes and think about something you reallllly don’t like about yourself. Now, I want you to grab a pen or pencil and a piece of paper and pretend that you are your OWN fairy godmother, ready to sprinkle some much-needed love and encouragement your way. Then, write a compassionate letter to YOURSELF where you offer acceptance and understanding and encouragement toward yourself. You can check out last week’s blog – Here’s a Message From Your Future Self – for an example.
One suuuuper cool part of this self-compassion exercise is that you actually have this letter delivered to you via email at some future date using futureme.org. If you have something suuuper scary coming up – like a job interview and you know you freeze up at job interviews – write yourself a letter that will arrive on the day of that event so you have this encouraging, compassionate self with you.
What a Compassionate Letter to Yourself Could Sound Like:
In the case of that job interview example, the letter could be something like: “Hey, even if you briefly froze, it’s totally OK. These are suuuper high-pressure situations, so it’s only natural to freak out a little! And the right employer doesn’t just look for someone who kills it at job interviews. They want a super dedicated, smart, hard-working employee and you’re kickass at all of that! Don’t overlook everything you did right, either. The way you slayyyed those questions about the company’s values and history, or how the recruiter’s eyebrows raised when he saw you brought a brief and expanded version of your résumé. I know you did your best and gave it your all – and the right employer will see that!” Schedule the letter to arrive the night you get back home from that interview. That way, you feel that hug from your invisible, inner bestie right when you need it!
Letter writing can be a crazy powerful way to show yourself some extra TLC. But if you need even more help silencing your inner critic and getting in touch with your inner bestie, get alll the extra guidance you need with my Self-Compassion Meditation! In this twenty-minute meditation, I help you relax your mind, connect with love, and remember what a badass you really are, mistakes and all. To download this meditation and start experiencing all eight of these self-compassion benefits right now, click here.
What I Hope You Now Know About Self-Compassion
When we’re trying suuuuper hard to be the best person we can be, it’s rough to see ourselves take a step backward and totally lose our shit on someone we love, break a promise we made that would’ve brought us closer to our goals or just fall short of our “perfect” ideal self.
But progress isn’t linear. People aren’t math equations. And the most powerful thing you can do to actually find true happiness and slay your goals is to embrace self-compassion and cut yourself some slack!
After all, just think about who you’d rather hang out with. The frenemy who allllways points out everyone’s flaws and NEVER lets you forget that one time you procrastinated on the proposal for a HUGE marketing campaign and accidentally typed “shits” instead of “stats”? Or the bestie who took you out for drinks after that epic fail and said, “Girl…you majorly f-ed up. But I know you’re stressed about the new job and still getting over your breakup. So stop blaming yourself and wallowing. Just focus on the next report and kicking ass!”?
I don’t know about you…but I’m allllways gonna go with the latter.
What’s one way that practicing self-compassion has transformed YOUR life? Tell me in the comments!