kindness quotes

5 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself

It was every parent’s nightmare.

Kristin Neff was on an airplane with her husband and her young son, Rowan, and all was well.

Until Rowan suddenly threw a tantrum. And not just any tantrum. This was a crying, screaming, flailing-on-the-floor kind of tantrum.

Kristin was mortified.

She took Rowan from his seat and led him, literally kicking and screaming, up the aisle of the airplane, hoping to get him into a bathroom where she and Rowan could work together toward settling him down.

“I could feel the daggers coming from the other passengers’ eyes,” she said. “They all assumed he was just some kid who was acting out terribly.”

What the passengers didn’t know is that Rowan has autism and sometimes there was not a lot that could be done about his tantrums.

Reaching the airplane bathroom, Kristin saw the dreaded red-letter word: occupied.

With Rowan still screaming and struggling, Kristin did something unexpected and very courageous:

She was kind to herself.

Quietly, while hanging on to Rowan and facing row after row of irritated, staring passengers, Kristin repeated to herself:

This is a moment of suffering

Suffering is a part of life

May I be kind to myself

May I give myself the compassion I need

The Courage to Be Self-Compassionate

kindness quotes

How was Kristin able to be kind to herself in that horrible moment rather than lapsing into panic, anger, or lashing out at Rowan in some way?

I’m sure her years of practice in loving-kindness meditation were helpful and essential. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she is the leading researcher and expert in the field of self-compassion.

Years of observing people stumbling over the concept of self-compassion has shown her that we commonly think that treating ourselves kindly will result in being lazy, self-indulgent, and wallowing in self-pity.

As these traits are devalued in our culture, you may have used a universal way to motivate yourself: self-criticism.

Self-criticism actually does work to motivate us to a certain extent.

However, it creates a lot of trouble in doing so: fear of failure, thoughts of not being good enough, and fear of humiliation, just to name a few.

And, says Dr. Neff, self-criticism also provides you with the illusion of control. If you just worked harder, looked prettier, or acted nicer, you could achieve that perfection you’ve been seeking, right?

You know the answer to that question, but the pursuit of perfection and the lure of control are hard to shake.

That’s why it takes courage to be self-compassionate.

It requires you to release control and acknowledge that you are imperfect, that you make mistakes and always will. Rather than struggling with the unreachable goal of perfection, self-compassion requires you to let go of your resistance to your own humanity and go with it instead.

The Myths of Self-Compassion

Let’s look more closely at some of the beliefs we have about self-compassion which, as it turns out, really aren’t true.

Myth 1: Self-compassion is selfish.

In our culture, we are taught to care for everyone except ourselves. Self-compassion can thus be seen as selfish, that taking care of yourself means you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing: taking care of someone else.

Reality: Caring for others requires loving-kindness and authenticity. If you haven’t created those traits for yourself, how can you give them to others?

Myth 2: Self-compassion is indulgent.

You might be concerned that being nice to yourself just lets you off the hook and encourages you to be self-indulgent.

Reality: Self-compassion is about your health and well-being while self-indulgence is about getting anything you want when you want it without thoughts of well-being.

Self-compassion is about noticing and being with your pain. Self-indulgence is about numbing and denying your pain.

Myth 3:  Self-criticism is what motivates you.

As mentioned above, sometimes self-criticism does provide motivation. One of the things it likely evolved to do was to keep us safe.

Reality: While it’s possible the inner critic developed to perform this task, you don’t need it anymore. We have many ways to keep ourselves safe, so we really don’t need a critical voice in our heads to do so.

Similarly, we don’t need to be internally nagged and disparaged to accomplish things. Being self-compassionate gives you the confidence you need to motivate yourself.

Myth 4: Self-compassion is wimpy.

In our individualistic society, you are supposed to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and tough things out. Be kind to yourself? Quit being such a wimp!

Reality: Actually, self-compassion serves to heal and strengthen you. It is, in fact, the strongest and most resilient among us who have the courage to be kind to ourselves.

5 Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself

1. Acknowledge your suffering and pain.

You have likely been conditioned to ignore, deny, or suppress your pain but this will only result in more suffering down the road.

Practice noticing your pain and your tender spots and gently give yourself validation that they are real and deserve compassion.

2. Treat yourself as you would a friend.

Think for a moment of how you talk to yourself when you are going through a rough time.

Now think about if your friend was experiencing the same thing. How would you talk to her? How would you treat her?

It’s likely you treat yourself much worse than you would a friend who is having the same problems. You might even treat yourself worse than an enemy with those problems!

Talk to and treat yourself as you would your friend.

Speak gently to yourself. Be understanding.

Wrap your arms around your shoulders in a hug or put your hands over your heart in a physical display of affection and comfort.

3. Remember the idea of common humanity.

Even if you are going through a tough time of your own doing, does that mean you shouldn’t be kind to yourself?

No. It means you’re human.

You are a part of the greater whole of humanity and, as such, remember that all humans are flawed, make mistakes, and are deserving of compassion.

4. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to your current experience without judgment.

Rather than running away from or suppressing pain, mindfulness allows us just to be with these feelings as they are. When Kristin Neff stood with a screaming Rowan at the front of that plane, her practice of mindfulness allowed her to act instead of just react.

She was able to see clearly what her situation was and chose to be self-compassionate rather than becoming angry with Rowan or berating herself.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Neff’s website has a number of guided meditations to help you along the way.

5. Repeat after me.

In a quiet place, take a deep, soothing breath, close your eyes, and repeat this loving-kindness meditation to yourself:

May I be safe

May I be peaceful

May I be kind to myself

May I accept myself as I am


Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel helps you bounce back from the significant challenges in your life. Download her FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs. You can also join her on Facebook where she posts other cool stuff.


18 Responses to 5 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself

  1. As with all criticism, it is the *kind* of criticism you give yourself that matters. Constructive criticism is good. Negatively putting yourself down, not so good. That’s just a form of self-abuse.

    But to be aware, and accepting, of your flaws as they stand now — knowing that you are working to change them — is beneficial. It’s a requirement if we ever wish to better ourselves.

    And you’re right, it’s important to accept our pain. Unpleasant as it sounds, it is necessary for healing and personal growth. But I just don’t think I could ever give myself a self-hug. 


  2. halinagold says:

    What you’re sharing here is so touching, so valuable, so important. Thank you!

    Would it be too much to stretch it a bit further even? To say that we are travelers on a journey? That none of the trees that we pass on our way are flawed – and neither are we? Just growing, each in our own peculiar way… Beautiful, love-deserving, compassion-deserving, each in our own special way…

    Warm greetings –


  3. Dan Erickson says:

    Taking the best care of ourselves is actually less selfish because we can’t help others if our own health is poor.  Another thing people need to do is be self-forgiving.

  4. Bobbi Emel says:

    Good point, Dan. Self-forgiveness is as essential as self-compassion.

  5. Bobbi Emel says:

    I think that’s the best way to look at things, halinagold, if only we could consistently. I love your perspective!

  6. Bobbi Emel says:

    Okay, Trevor, you don’t have to give yourself a hug 😉 How about just putting  your hands over your heart in a soothing manner?

    You’re right, we can certainly benefit from a constructive critical approach to some things, but we don’t need the abuse that the voice in our heads often spews at us.

  7. I like the overall message. I think that actually nobody thinks about themselves compassionately enough. If they did, we would have had more self-assured people running around on the streets :)

  8. Bobbi Emel says:

    And I think we might be more compassionate toward others, too, Joanna. Thanks!

  9. Lee Tyler says:

    Incredible article, Bobbi. I started reading it and then got caught up with a friend’s problem and was trying to soothe her. When I began the article again, I read your remarks on being compassionate to ourselves; similar as we are to our friends. I looked back over my comments to her and I would never talk to myself as kindly as that! And my heart was truly breaking for her as I know what she is going through. Thank you for this…lesson; not just an article!

  10. Bobbi Emel says:

    Thanks, Lee! Isn’t it amazing when we compare what we say to ourselves vs. what we say to friends side-to-side? Like I said, we may even speak more kindly to our enemies than we do ourselves. Glad you had a good lesson today!

  11. thepassiondiva says:

    Everything we do and say to ourselves and to each other should follow these wonderful strategies.

  12. The meditation affirmation is a great idea. The power of vocalizing safe phrases definitely impacts the mind, but takes a long time to become habitual.

  13. Truly enlightening Bobbi! These days, because of hard times all over the world, most of us tend to critic ourselves more, thinking if we realize the wrong in us (our minds and bodies), we can push ourselves to make the change needed to become perfect and successful. When actually, we are just being hard on ourselves. From experience, I’ve realized, when we are hard on ourselves, people we interact with react with the same criticizing eyes and not with the pity or compassion we are looking for from them. So who’s the best person to show us compassion first but ourselves. You truly are an expert in your field, thanks!

  14. Gary Korisko says:


    This is a tough one for me – and no doubt many others. Self-criticism comes very naturally. Self-compassion does not. But that’s me.

    On the other hand, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this…

    Couldn’t it go the other way? I think we all know people who seem to be so self-compassionate that it borders on excuses or copping out when things get tough.

    How would you suggest that people make sure they’re doing it but not OVER-doing it?

    Enjoyed the post as always, Bobbi!

  15. Mary Slagel@Shape Daily says:

    You make a great point about mindfulness and knowing how to act and not just react like most people generally do.

  16. Jacky says:

    This is valuable article to encourage people run out from tough time. Self-compassion and self-criticism are really move a people to another level of life. Thanks sharing.

  17. Amit Amin says:

    Another reason to avoid having babies!

    It really does take courage. Self-compassion is hard.

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