Self-empathy is exactly what it sounds like: Empathy for the self. But breaking it down into a few key elements gives us something less abstract to work with. Self-empathy is built on everyday awareness, mindfulness, and kindness.* These three elements offer us helpful instructions on how to cultivate a closer relationship with the self—a relationship that looks different for everyone.
– 1 –
awarenessRecognizing that we’re not alone in our experience. Remembering that negative thoughts, emotions, sensations, and states of being are natural. Getting comfortable with the fact that our life is one of perfect imperfection.
– 2 –
mindfulnessObserving aspects of our experience with a gentle curiosity. Noticing, but not obsessing over, negative thoughts, emotions, sensations, and states of being. Increasing the connection between our body and mind.
– 3 –
kindnessActively treating ourself well throughout our experience. Being understanding, nonjudgmental, and forgiving about our past, present, and future actions. Making an effort to practice self-care, self-soothing, and positive self-talk.
So what does greater self-empathy actually look like? Many things. Being gentle with ourselves as we learn and grow. Giving meaning even to days we think are wasted. Focusing more on our own energy and needs. Finding self-love through our disorders and disabilities. Owning our creativity, talents, and passions. Feeling safe to evolve who we are at our core. Trusting ourselves to make decisions that serve us.
WHAT DOES EMPATHY REALLY MEAN?
Empathy is about greater recognition and deeper emotions. While sympathy is hearing and feeling for someone, empathy goes a few steps further to understand and feel with someone. It’s the ability to relate on a more intuitive level with a person, ourselves included. Empathy requires respect, sensitivity, awareness, and compassion. And even if we aren’t sensitive and empathic by nature, empathy is something most people can grow with a little practice and patience.
HOW DO WE BUILD MORE EMPATHY?
When we expand our ability to empathize, we can more easily connect with people from a place of understanding. The first step to building more empathy for others is really cultivating a healthy empathy for ourselves. This means approaching our actions with gentleness and learning to study our soul, notice our needs, make peace with our mistakes, celebrate our successes, and grow more comfortable with our imperfect life paths. Extending the same level of awareness to others lets us help them in the best way we can.
WHY SHOULD WE EDIT EMPATHY?
Empathizing with others is a beautiful skill but one that shouldn’t be left unchecked. It’s very possible, and quite common, to overempathize, giving more than we receive and letting our own emotions, needs, and desires dissolve and disappear in the feelings of another. And many empaths also believe they can truly feel the trauma of others as their own, not understanding that our empathy is always incomplete. To achieve better balance, we need to continually edit our empathy by identifying unhealthy or ignorant empathic tendencies and breaking down bad habits. This leads to reciprocal relationships and more opportunities to embrace what feels good and discard what doesn’t.
WHEN DO WE USE EMPATHY?
The best use of self-empathy is not only observing and better understanding our own souls, but improving our mental health and overall well-being. We can also use empathy, of course, to better navigate and add meaning to the relationships we have with others at home, at work, and out in the world. This empathy can be used to understand actions, communicate and collaborate, offer support, and do so much more. Empathy is everywhere and its uses are endless.
*These elements make up my personal definition for self-empathy, which draws inspiration from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work with self-compassion.