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June 27, 2013

The power of self-compassion

Forgiving and nurturing yourself can set the stage for better health, relationships, and general well-being. Self-compassion yields a number of benefits, including lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people recognize when they are suffering and are kind to themselves at these times, which reduces their anxiety and related depression.

While some people come by self-compassion naturally, others have to learn it. Luckily, it is a learnable skill.

Harvard psychologist Christopher Germer, in his book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, suggests that there are five ways to bring self-compassion into your life: via physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual methods. He and other experts have proposed a variety of ways to foster self-compassion. Here are a few:

  • Comfort your body. Eat something healthy. Lie down and rest your body. Massage your own neck, feet, or hands. Take a walk. Anything you can do to improve how you feel physically gives you a dose of self-compassion.
  • Write a letter to yourself. Describe a situation that caused you to feel pain (a breakup with a lover, a job loss, a poorly received presentation). Write a letter to yourself describing the situation without blaming anyone. Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Give yourself encouragement. If something bad or painful happens to you, think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing happened to him or her. Direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness. This is the nonjudgmental observation of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, without trying to suppress or deny them. When you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, accept the bad with the good with a compassionate attitude.

To learn more on how to draw on your strengths and find positive meaning in your life, buy Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Mindfulness, and Inner Strength, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.