“You have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked.
Try approving of yourself and see what happens” – Louise Hay
Have you ever written a love-letter to someone you care about?
Have you pored over greetings cards and taken forever to choose as the words for that special person in your life needed to be just right?
How would you like to write a letter to YOU, telling yourself how much you are loved, how you are enough, how you are doing the best you can?
Writing a Self-Compassion Letter ….
We often judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others, beating ourselves up over our faults, flaws, and shortcomings. This can make us feel deflated, unhappy, and stressed.
Rather than self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
According to psychologist, Kristin Neff, “self-compassion” has three main components:
We have been inspired by the “Greater Good Toolkit” which offers science-based practices for a meaningful life. One of the exercises in the toolkit is to write a letter to yourself expressing compassion for an aspect of yourself that you may not like. Research suggests that people who respond with compassion to their own flaws and failings – rather than beating themselves up – experience greater physical and mental health.
Having compassion for yourself means that you honour and accept that you are human.
We struggle with it daily and don’t have all the answers but here are some tips which might make you more aware of how to be kinder to YOU!
Let’s get started …
First, identify something about yourself that makes you feel ashamed, insecure or not good enough. It could be something relating to your personality, behaviour, abilities, relationships, or any other part of your life.
Once you have identified something, write it down and describe how it makes you feel. Do you feel sad, embarrassed, angry, irritated?
The next step is to write a letter to yourself expressing compassion, understanding, and acceptance for the part of yourself you dislike.
As you write, follow these guidelines:
- Imagine there is someone who loves and accepts you unconditionally for who you are. What would that person say to you about this part of yourself?
- Remind yourself that everyone has things about themselves that they don’t like, and that no-one is without flaws. We are human! Think about how many people in the world are struggling with the same thing that you’re struggling with.
- Have a think about how events have happened in your life, the family environment you grew up in, or even your genes which may have contributed to this negative aspect of yourself.
- In a compassionate way, ask yourself whether there are any things that you could do to improve or better cope with this part of you. Focus on how positive changes could make you feel happier, healthier or more fulfilled and try not to judge yourself.
- After writing the letter, put it down for a little while. Then come back to it later and read it again. It may be a good idea to read it whenever you’re feeling bad about yourself, as a reminder to be more compassionate.
- Try to do this practice once per week, or at least once per month.
- Be as honest as possible keeping in mind that no-one but you will read what you write.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance” – Brené Brown
Why it works …
Self-compassion is an antidote to the painful feelings of shame and self-criticism that can be detrimental to our mental health and well-being and stand in the way of personal growth.
Writing to ourselves in a self-compassionate way can help replace our self-critical voice with a kinder and more caring one – a voice that comforts and reassures rather than criticises and puts you down.
It takes time and practice, so push through the discomfort knowing that the more you write in this way, the more familiar and natural the compassionate voice will feel and the easier it will be to remember to treat yourself kindly when you’re feeling down on yourself.
Research by has shown that people who wrote a self-compassion letter every day for a week reported lower symptoms of depression and greater happiness three months later than they had beforehand. They also seemed happier and less depressed three months later that people who had written about an early memory every day for a week. Their increase in happiness persisted six months later. [Neff, K D and Germer, C K (2013). A pilot study and randomised controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program. Journal of Clinincal Psychology, 69(1), 28-44].