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Meditation for self-compassion

Sometimes, self-compassion might feel unattainable. Many people think it’s something we earn, like after hitting specific self-improvement goals or other achievements. But we don’t have to qualify for compassion. We can always choose to be kinder to ourselves. All we need to do is tap into our self-compassion. It’s a natural part of us all.

Of course, it takes practice to let kindness out. Other people’s criticisms and opinions have influenced the mind since our childhood. So, it’s conditioned to look at things from a glass-half-empty point of view. This makes it easy for the mind to think up reasons to question our self-worth and bring us down. If we make a mistake and feel embarrassed, the mind might react with, “Ugh, I’m stupid.” Or, if we don’t get asked out on a second date, the mind might say, “This proves I’m not good enough.” This negative self-talk can be crushing if we buy into it.

Meditation for self-compassion helps us make space between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. With practice, we learn to reject our negative conditioning, stop listening to our inner voice so much, and judge ourselves less. Then it gets easier to allow and encourage kindness, sympathy, and openness that’s always there to show up. Let’s start today.

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Key takeaways:

  • Self-compassion means choosing to treat ourselves kindly

  • Being kinder to ourselves can improve our relationships with others, too

  • Try meditations for self-compassion with Headspace


What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion helps us recognize when we’re going through a difficult time and show ourselves extra care. Self-compassion is made up of three components:

  1. Being kind to ourselves instead of being judgmental.

  2. Recognizing that we all go through painful experiences instead of being the only person suffering or making mistakes.

  3. Observing our emotions and thoughts through mindfulness instead of reacting to them.

Think about the way we treat a close friend. Chances are, we speak to them gently and sympathetically, no matter what they’re going through. If they confide in us about a problem they’re having at work and say, “I’m not good at my job,” we probably wouldn’t respond, “Yep,” and list off a bunch of examples. That’s mean! And likely not true.

Instead, we’d say something like, “I’m sorry you’re having a tough time at work. Because you care a lot, I think you’re being hard on yourself.” We’re being kind, recognizing their pain, and responding thoughtfully. This gives our friends validation, comfort, and a healthy sense of perspective.

Now think about how we speak to ourselves when we feel like we’re in a tough spot. Do we give ourselves the same kindness and understanding that we’d offer a friend? Most likely not. But imagine if we did. What would happen if we treated ourselves like that instead of being so harsh and critical?

As Headspace teacher Dora Kamau says, “If we are kinder to ourselves, we can accept ourselves as we are. And if we accept ourselves, we can love ourselves as we are.”


How do I practice self-compassion meditation?

When we meditate for self-compassion, we train ourselves to be our own close friend. One study shows that three weeks of Headspace increased compassionate behavior by 23%. That’s because meditation helps us be kind to our mind.

First, we learn to stop listening to our negative self-talk. Remember, it’s impossible to stop thinking, so we don’t try to turn off or silence our inner voice during meditation. Instead, we learn to view thoughts like “I’m always wrong” or “I’m not worth it” for what they really are: just thoughts. Not truths. No matter how many times we’ve said the same nasty thing to ourselves.

Once we’ve built the ability to recognize our thoughts, this awareness makes it easier for us to be less affected and simply let them go. The better we get at noticing and letting go of our thoughts, the more space we’ll create for kindness to show up. Little by little, we start feeling less bothered by our negative self-talk. And we might even begin to understand the other ways the mind might bring us down or sabotage our happiness and well-being.

When we have more compassion for ourselves, we also get a clearer view of what does and doesn’t work for us outside of the mind. We get better at recognizing situations that might overwhelm us and burn us out — or ones that bring us joy — to make better decisions and take care of ourselves. Ultimately, self-compassion helps us improve self-discipline, self-love, and self-care.

Here are a few self-compassion meditation techniques to try:

  • Skillful compassion. We might have heard of or practiced a meditation technique of breathing in good stuff and breathing out the bad stuff. This technique reverses it to put the happiness of others before our own. As we breathe in, we imagine all the difficulties of others — from family or friends, or even strangers on the news. Then as we breathe out, we imagine exchanging them for all the good stuff we’ve ever experienced in our life. Sharing these happy moments with others in this way can boost joy, empathy, and kindness for ourselves and others.

  • Noting. If we get distracted by negative self-talk (while we meditate or do anything else), this technique helps us call it out. We stop to recognize, “Oh, I’m thinking. Oh, I’m not being so kind to myself.” This simple act gives us a sense of having dealt with it and makes it easier to let go of the distraction and return to whatever we’re doing. When we get distracted again, and we will, repeat the process of pausing, noting, and letting go.

  • Body scan. A body scan meditation is one of the easiest meditation techniques — it’s exactly what it sounds like. Imagine a photocopier slowly moving over us, from our head to our toes, detecting any sensations in the body. We notice which parts feel relaxed or tense, comfortable or uncomfortable, light or heavy as we scan down. And we do our best to recognize how we’re feeling without judging ourselves or trying to change what we feel.


What are the benefits of self-compassion meditation?

In addition to a kinder, calmer mind, self-compassion meditation can help:

  • Reduce anxiety.

Research shows that more self-compassion is associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. When we’re able to give ourselves the space to process and deal with challenging moments as we do during meditation, it can help us avoid getting caught up in the anxiety that surrounds them in the first place.

  • Improve relationships.

Being more compassionate toward ourselves has a ripple effect on our relationships with others, even with strangers. It lets us more easily understand what others might be going through. Maybe we don’t honk in traffic if we realize everyone else is probably just as frustrated sitting in their cars. Or maybe we don’t snap at our partner if we know they’ve had a tough day and already feel low. Instead, we can choose to direct loving-kindness their way. Research shows that just three weeks of 10-minute meditations can lead to an increase in friendly, helpful behavior.

  • Reduce workplace stress.

Learning to sit with the mind can help us manage workplace stress. One study found that practicing mindfulness for six weeks reduced the participants’ levels of “self-coldness” and lowered their perceived stress levels and burnout symptoms. With the awareness we build, we can more easily zoom out and notice when we’re working beyond what’s expected of us to strike a better work-life balance.

  • Appreciate our body.

Since meditation helps us better navigate judgmental thoughts, it can help us reframe our body image and befriend our bodies. In one study, self-compassion meditation significantly decreased body dissatisfaction for participants, and they maintained those feelings three months later.


Try meditations for self-compassion with Headspace

The Headspace app has hundreds of guided exercises to help you build your practice. Start by searching these three meditations for self-compassion. A happier, healthier you is a few breaths away.

  • Self-Compassion course. Using the loving-kindness technique, you’ll uncover the self-love that already exists within you and practice unconditional friendliness toward your mind.

  • Kindness course. Foster feelings of compassion toward yourself and learn to judge others less harshly too.

  • Forgiving Ourselves meditation. Showing ourselves kindness can help us show up better for our families.

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