5 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-criticism can be a healthy motivator or an opportunity for learning.  But too often we go overboard, lashing ourselves with insults and magnifying our faults. How to rebalance?  Enter self-compassion: rather than judging yourself when things go wrong, you comfort and care for yourself. This week on the podcast, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, aka the Savvy Psychologist, offers 5 ways to practice self-compassion.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #76

Self compassion is being kind and patient with yourself when—inevitably—you fall short of perfection.  Intellectually, we know everyone makes mistakes, but somehow when that someone is us, we get a lot less sympathetic. But judging ourselves harshly not only makes us feel terrible, it doesn’t improve the situation at all.

So this week, let’s do away with unhelpful judgment—just like massaging a knot out of muscle, here are 5 ways to use self-compassion to gently rub judgment out of your life. 

Tip #1: Focus on what you needed at the time, not what you did. Take yourself back to a point in your life of which you’re not particularly proud: that loser you dated, those words you said in anger, the friend you flaked out on when she really needed you.

Usually, what comes to mind is judgment. Maybe you cringe, or roll your eyes at yourself. “Ugh, what was I thinking?” “Nice work.” “You blew it again.”

So, try this instead: when you’re hit with regret, think of what need you were trying to fulfill at the time.  With dating the aforementioned loser, maybe you needed love or connection. Thinking to yourself, “Well, I needed to feel loved” is much easier to swallow than, “Ugh, I was such a fool!”  

In another example, think of the last time you yelled at your kids (which never happens, of course). Rather than thinking “I’m a terrible parent,” think about what you needed at the time.  Peace, sanity, control?  Should you have yelled?  Probably not.  But given your need, does it kinda make sense why you did? Of course. Pinpointing your need isn’t a get out of jail free card, but it allows for understanding, which leads to self-compassion.

In sum, focusing on what need you were trying to fulfill takes away the judgment and allows for compassion. You understand why you did what you did, even if in hindsight, you’d do it differently.  To err, and to need, is human.  Which brings us to...

Tip #2: Remember you are human. Dr. Kristin Neff, the field’s foremost researcher on self-compassion, often speaks of a common humanity.  Essentially, screwing up, doing stupid things, and feeling inadequate are all parts of the human experience. 

In the best possible way, you are not special. Everyone has his or her hot button. Everyone has issues.  Truly knowing this relieves the shameful isolation of thinking it’s just you.

When you know that insecurities, failures, and screwups are unavoidable simply because they’re part of the human condition, you start to take them in stride.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.