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Treating Yourself Like a Friend: How to Practice Self-Compassion

Zarina Moreno LCSW (she/her/ella) is a bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Austin, TX hailing from the Rio Grande Valley. She works at The SAFE Alliance’s Expect Respect program full-time where she talks with teens about how to build healthy relationships and prevent
dating violence. She also works at Austin Teen Therapy by providing individual and group therapy to teens who are wanting to take care of their mental health and have a safe, judgment-free zone to talk about their personal struggles in English, Spanish, or both! When not doing therapy, you can find Zarina working out early in the morning and coming back home to master the art of making espresso and going on walks with her pandemic dog, Bertha. You can find Zarina at here!

What is Self-Compassion?

Think of a time a friend told you something really bad happened to them. Maybe they failed a test, got in trouble at school, or the person they liked asked someone else out. They felt terrible. Can you remember what you told them? And how? 

Now think of a time where you felt terrible after something bad happened to you. What did you tell yourself? How? Did you treat yourself the same way you treated your friend? 

My guess is you may have been  kinder to your friend than to yourself. Did I guess right? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! In fact, it’s super common for people, both teens and adults, to be our own worst critics. BUT we can also change this programming!

Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as “being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain” or being self-critical. Moreover, she identified three parts to self-compassion: Self-Kindness: being nice to yourself (say kind things to yourself like you did your best, you’re awesome); Mindfulness: paying attention to what you are experiencing in the moment so when we identify bad feelings/thoughts – we can acknowledge that they will pass; and Common Humanity: understand what you’re going through is something that all teens go through. 

So what do we do to become more self-compassionate? Keep reading to find out!

Why Does Self-Compassion Matter?

Being a teen can be lonely sometimes– even when you are surrounded by friends and family. The isolation and lack of connection that teens are feeling has increased due to the pandemic and has made a huge impact on teens’ mental health. 

There are so many changes and transitions happening right now–with school (online and in-person learning), peers, family, and ourselves that it can all feel overwhelming! Trying to keep up with all these changes can certainly make it feel like you’re not measuring up to what’s being asked of you and start being mean towards yourself.

You may go from feeling happy to feeling sad to feeling alone then feeling okay again in a short period of time – and that can be confusing! Sometimes this leads you to start questioning yourself or feeling alone in your experiences.. The thing is, other young people are probably having very similar or parallel experiences! The trouble is, we have been taught to put on a mask and pretend to be okay in front of others while inside, we are struggling with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Pair that with trying to fit in with a certain group of friends or trying to form your own identity, and it’s game over! 

Some of the benefits of practicing self-compassion include decreased anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as developing coping skills that can impact your relationships and overall happiness. 

It is super important to be a good friend to ourselves when we are struggling, especially when we feel alone in experiencing this. 

Being gentle to yourself will not only help you cope with difficult feelings, like unworthiness or not-enoughness, in a healthy way, but also decipher whether you are being extra critical of yourself!

How Can I Practice Self-Compassion?

You are probably already doing some things that show self-compassion. The key is to be mindful and aware of how and what you’re telling yourself when you’re going through a hard time. If it’s unkind, it’s time to consider how you can reframe the thought you’re having. You might ask yourself, “what would it be like to be kinder to myself in this moment?”. 

Some self-compassionate things you can say to yourself include:

  • “It’s okay, I’m human, and all humans make mistakes!”
  • “I’m not alone, others have struggled through this too, I’ll get past this!”
  • “I’m feeling ___ right now and that’s okay, What can I do/What do I need to take care of myself at this moment?”

Some self-care activities you can explore include:

  • Watch a funny show/movie
  • Exercise (bike ride, running, taking a walk)
  • Call/Text a friend
  • Talk to a therapist
  • Listen to music/have a dance party
  • Write in your journal

What else would you add to the 2 lists above?! Take a moment to write down a few ideas!

Whether this is the first time you’re hearing about self-compassion or if you’re a veteran when it comes to being kind to yourself, I invite you to practice treating yourself as you would a friend –with love and kindness! 

If you’re interested in building your self-compassion skills or if you’re needing some extra emotional support in a warm, safe, and non-judgmental space, feel free to reach out to me here!

*Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska

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