Negative self-talk gets in the way of practicing self-compassion. In this image, a dark-haired man stands in front of a dark wall, looking out a window. His expression is calm and thoughtful.
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

*taps mic* Okay, is this thing on?

Let’s start here—with a few things that tend to be true for a lot of us:

We have compassion for others when they make mistakes or have bad days… While we’re our own worst critic.

All the compliments in the world won’t stop us seeing that one small imperfection we’re focused on.

We would never, ever use the self-talk we subject ourselves to on our best friends or loved ones.

Sound familiar?

Here in the United States, having compassion for others is a quality that’s often celebrated and admired—at least on the surface. 

But by contrast, how to practice self-compassion isn’t something we’re usually taught to do.

Self-Compassion Isn’t Selfish

When we think of empathy or kindness, we’ve usually got other people in mind. We might have a knee-jerk reaction when we consider applying those feelings to ourselves—isn’t that selfish? Or even… narcissistic?!

Well… No! It isn’t. 

If we believe that humans are deserving of love, compassion, safety, and all manner of other good things, then it only stands to reason that we, ourselves, are deserving of them, too. 

Even if we’re surrounded by supportive, affirming, and loving people all day every day, we’re going to hear our own internal voices more often and even louder.  (Literally—there are no internal earplugs for those internal voices!)

And we can do a lot of damage by regularly exposing ourselves to negative self-talk.

Research has shown, though, that individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater happiness overall, better relationships and physical health, and less anxiety and depression.1

So self-compassion isn’t having a “pity party” or being selfish, self-centered, or narcissistic. It’s realizing that living a content, healthy life means taking care of yourself, too.

How To Practice Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion means that you give yourself the same love, empathy, and understanding that you give others.

Think of someone in your life that you love—maybe a best friend or beloved family member. How do you treat them every day? Do you speak kindly to them? Forgive them for the mistakes they make? Encourage them to take care of themselves physically and mentally? Probably, right?

Now what if they made a mistake? Would you call them names, tell them they’re a failure, or bring up every other time they’ve disappointed you throughout your time together? Of course not. 

You can learn to practice that same self-compassion by:

  • Speaking kindly to yourself. Challenge and silence your inner critic.
  • Forgiving yourself. You’ve made mistakes, but so has everyone else. Be willing to forgive yourself and move forward.
  • Taking care of yourself. Be mindful of your physical and mental health. Ask for help when you need it.
  • Reaching toward your greatest potential. Identify your personal core values, move toward your goals at a pace that’s right for you, and be your own biggest cheerleader.
  • Being mindful. Be in the present moment. Acknowledge your thoughts, give them a nod, and let them pass on by.

Increase Your Capacity For Self-Compassion Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present. It means living in the here and now, in the sense that you aren’t rehashing the past or worrying about the future at any given moment. 

Is it realistic to think we’ll never think about our past or our future? No, of course it isn’t—and I’d argue it’s not particularly healthy to avoid doing those things. 

But it’s not healthy to avoid the present, either, and by living entirely in the past or in the future, that’s essentially what we’re doing. 

Striking a balance means being more intentional with our thoughts and with our energy. That’s where mindfulness comes in. 

By practicing mindfulness, we’ll develop the ability to observe our thoughts as they come and go, without feeling beholden to them. We can feel that pang of memory over an embarrassing moment at work, for example, or remember a disagreement with a loved one and simply let it pass… 

Instead of wanting to find a fresh rock to hide under or recreating the argument we wish we’d made. 

This creates room for self-compassion because it removes the negative self-talk that often accompanies unpleasant thoughts or worries.

Here’s how to incorporate more mindfulness into your day: 

  • Meditate. Take a few moments every day to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and be in the present moment. Let your thoughts come and go—try not to react to what comes up. Find guided meditations on YouTube or on apps like Calm if that sounds appealing to you.
  • Ask yourself what you need. Throughout the day, begin asking yourself what you need at that moment. Rest? Food? A good laugh? A hug? And let yourself have that thing.
  • Challenge yourself to be present, even when it feels boring. Washing the dishes? Doing a load of laundry? Putting gas in the car? Try to be present in that moment as much as you can. What do you feel, hear, and see? 
  • Do a body scan. Close your eyes, and bring your awareness to your physical body. From head to toe, “scan” each body part. Are your shoulders tense? Do you have pain anywhere? Be aware of every part of your body. Try gently tensing and releasing each muscle group, one by one, for an extra sense of grounding.

Mindfulness and meditation come easily for some people—but not for most of us. So if you struggle or feel frustrated at first, that’s normal! Remember that there’s no deadline here; mindfulness is a practice, and it will get easier over time. 

And, bonus! The more you practice mindfulness, the more your capacity for self-compassion will grow.

Practice Self-Compassion—But Hold Yourself Accountable, Too

One of the ways to show true self-compassion is to be really, really honest with ourselves. That means not telling ourselves we’ve made the world’s biggest mistake when, in fact, we haven’t. 

But it also means taking responsibility—being accountable—for our actions. 

If these ideas seem at odds with each other, there’s good reason for it. Popular myth holds that being hard on ourselves is good motivation. We’re told we can shame and guilt ourselves into long-term change. 

In reality, while shame might get us to buy that product faster or sign up for that service being marketed to us on our Instagram feed, it’s mostly just a predictor of more challenging mental health struggles like anxiety and depression.2

Instead, we can turn to the inimitable and ever-wise Maya Angelou, who said,

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This quote is the balance of self-compassion and accountability. In two short sentences, it reminds us that doing our best is worth a lot—but it’s not enough if we aren’t striving to learn and grow our “best” into “even better.”

Maybe you’ve hurt a friend. Chances are, you had your reasons for acting the way you did at the time. But maybe those reasons don’t seem like great justification anymore, and that’s okay! You grew, you learned, and now you know better. 

You can hold yourself accountable for the behavior and apologize while also maintaining self-compassion.

Balancing Accountability and Self-Compassion

Finding a healthy balance between self-compassion and accountability is achievable! 

Try these strategies:

Kick the negative self-talk to the curb. 

You can only hear something so many times before you start believing it—even when it isn’t true. Don’t talk yourself into accepting that you’re a bad person or a “failure.” You’re just human, like everyone else. 

And humans both deserve to receive and need to extend to each other quite a bit of grace! Practice mindfulness, skip the negative self-talk, and commit to increasing your self-compassion.

Keep your promises to yourself.

Hold yourself accountable in a compassionate way by keeping the promises you make to yourself. Show yourself that you can be trusted and relied upon to do what you say you will.

Of course, the other side of this coin is being honest with ourselves about what we can and should be taking on. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Be careful not to overcommit and to allow yourself plenty of downtime and rest.

Build a support system.

You’re responsible for yourself, but a good support system can help you stay accountable. Help can come in the form of family, friends, experts, trainers, accountability buddies, or therapists, for example.

It can also come in the form of routines or structures you put into place for yourself. If you know you struggle with distractions or procrastination, plan ahead to minimize those triggers. Take baby steps—remember that you’re setting a strong foundation to build upon over time.

Focus on growth, learning, and just doing better.

Did you make a mistake? Did you make a bad choice? Come in just short of achieving that goal? Own your missteps with self-compassion. Make amends where you can, and move on with the knowledge that you can and will make different choices in the future. 

Life Is All About Choices

Because, ultimately, life is about our choices and how we choose to move toward those things that feel right and authentic for us.

Having self-compassion takes time and practice for most people—after all, we tend to have a lot of unhealthy conditioning to unlearn first! 

So practice silencing your negative self-talk, engaging in mindful compassion for yourself, and gently holding yourself accountable every day. 

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Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

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