Fostering Self-Compassion on Your Healing Journey

I recently asked ChatGPT to do a little research for me. I asked, “what is the biggest desire of people who are working on their self-care and healing journey?” The top answer was to cultivate self-compassion.

This broke my heart.

When we talk about going to therapy, starting a healing journey, or investing in good and meaningful self-care, we usually speak about things pertaining to personal growth. We talk about letting go, learning how to forgive, investing in ourselves instead of people-pleasing. It’s rare that we talk about the very deep and internal process of being self-compassionate.

Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially in moments of difficulty, failure, or suffering. It involves recognizing your own humanity, acknowledging imperfections, and offering yourself the same warmth and support that you would give to a loved one in similar circumstances. Self-compassion also involves cultivating a sense of mindfulness to observe and validate your emotions without judgment, allowing for greater resilience and emotional well-being.

How sad that so many of us lack such an important and human skill.

Self-compassion, in my opinion, is linked to many of the other self- terms we use. Things like self-respect, self-image, and self-love. I think that when we lack respect for ourselves, when we have a low image of ourselves, and when we lack a loving posture toward who we are as people, we cannot possibly practice self-compassion. For me personally, I believe I began to lose my ability for self-compassion when I lost my self-respect in my twenties.

I was a toxic person back then, as many of us are at that age. I think spending years watching myself behave in ways I despised caused me to stop respecting myself. I’ve done a lot of work since then—grown in incredible ways and evolved as a person. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Sometimes I wonder if my self-image hasn’t caught up yet, and I’m still viewing myself as that toxic girl I was back then. Because my self-image is not a positive one, I cannot respect myself even all these years later. And since I don’t respect myself the way I should, I am unable to practice self-compassion.

Cultivating self-compassion, then, has meant going back to the root cause. I am working on correcting my self-image—learning to understand that I am not that toxic girl I was in my twenties. As I come to embrace the fact that I am a different person now, one who is healthy, healed, and on my way to being whole, I am able to have respect for myself because I like what I see; I’ve corrected my self-image. And, as I develop a sense of respect for who I am and what I’m like, I can then practice self-compassion.

I can be compassionate toward myself when I make mistakes because I know I am a good person who is human and is going to err. I can forgive myself when I fail at things, or when I am slower at achieving my goals than I’d like because I know I am a hard worker who will keep trying until I get it right. The ability to show myself compassion comes from a corrected conception of who I am as a person. I can’t show loving attitudes and behaviors toward myself when I think so little of who I am. But when I acknowledge my goodness, my worth, my inherent value, when I correct my self-image and allow self-respect to bloom, I can then show myself true compassion.

It’s a destination that might take me a while to reach, but with time and patience, I’ll get there. The same applies to you. Keep working. Keep growing. Keep reminding yourself that you are a good person, worthy of self-respect and self-compassion. You’ll get there, too. 

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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