How to Master the Fine Art of Putting Yourself First While Staying Compassionate

By Krista


Last Updated: June 8, 2022

You’ve probably heard this one before: Putting yourself first isn’t selfish. 

Yet, the way some people have taken this concept and ran with it makes this point entirely debatable. On the edge of this COVID pandemic, many people have seemingly taken the “focus on yourself” mantra of the last few years and twisted it to mean “I am more important than everyone else.” 

So, let’s redefine the concepts of self-love and self-compassion.

You can focus on yourself, without becoming arrogant or self-centered and without letting others down (for real!). Don’t let others’ twist the idea of “self-care” and “self-love” cause you to turn your nose up to it.

You can show self-compassion in a humble and graceful way. So, let’s walk this line a little further. What should you know?

How can you show yourself a little more compassion and love (without coming off as selfish)?



What is the Difference Between Compassion for Others and Compassion for Self?

Loving yourself is no easy feat.

It’s hard to let go of those people-pleasing tendencies and even harder to not feel like an incredibly selfish person for needing time for yourself. 

But there’s a fine line between compassion for others and compassion for self. For some reason, it’s way easier to show compassion for others than for ourselves. 

Some experts speculate that this may be the case due to the difference in purpose between self-compassion and compassion.

Compassion is more closely linked with social well-being, which makes sense considering our ancestors relied on being socially accepted in the tribe to survive. Simply put, you had a higher rate of survival within the tribe, rather than out on your own.

Meanwhile, self-compassion doesn’t exactly offer the same survival mechanisms. In fact, just because someone is compassionate towards others, it doesn’t mean they show themselves a ton of compassion.

Self-compassion is associated with greater personal well-being, rather than social well-being. This means that it’s about the individual experience, rather than the group experience.

Yet, individuals with high self-compassion tend to be mentally healthier and experience less depression. In turn, this could contribute to even better relationships and overall health.

When you show yourself compassion, you steer away from judgment of the self. We offer ourselves the same compassion we would a dear friend. This doesn’t involve critique, but acceptance. It further offers a window to understand yourself further. 

Some self-compassionate examples include telling yourself it’s okay when you fail or make a mistake rather than beating yourself up or giving yourself a pep talk before that big speech.

Meanwhile, general compassionate examples include offering your seat to a pregnant lady on the bus or taking a moment to listen and let your friend vent.



What Causes a Lack of Self-Compassion?

Research proposes that a lack of self-compassion can arise due to group values, practices, and norms. Yet these external factors aren’t the only reason why someone might not be able to show themselves self-compassion. Other reasons include:

  • Fearing the unknown
  • Not knowing how to practice self-compassion in a healthy and productive way
  • Feeling unworthy of self-compassion
  • Always putting others first
  • Past trauma, such as childhood experiences

Inevitably, there are many more circumstances that can lead to self-compassion. The main takeaway here is that if you feel you are lacking self-compassion, exploring “why” can help you take that first leap toward showing yourself more of it.

Sometimes, it can help to talk to a professional who can guide you through any past trauma or limiting beliefs.

Related Article: Release Your Guilt: 8 Practical Ways to Stop Feeling Bad



What Are the 3 Qualities of Self-Compassion and Compassion?

The three qualities of self-compassion include self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Below, we explore these more in-depth.

1. Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgment

As a self-compassionate individual, you recognize you aren’t perfect (no one is!).

  • You’re warm and understanding when you fail or make a mistake.
  • You don’t get angry, rather you understand that sometimes life works out this way.
  • You, instead, focus on what’s in your control over berating or criticizing yourself.


2. Common Humanity vs Isolation

“To be human is to suffer.” - Bill Ayers

The shared human experience involves different layers of suffering. In many ways, you can look at this with gratitude, as proof that you are alive and human. Recognizing that this is part of life is important.


3. Mindfulness vs Negative Self-Talk

Negative emotions can quickly take over. Yet, practicing mindfulness and being able to mentally observe them and not engage is all part of being more self-compassionate.

If you find yourself snowballing down a spiral of negative emotions, remember, perspective is everything! Don’t over-extend your identity and wrap it all up in this one incident in your life. 



How to Become More Self-Compassionate (Not Self-Indulgent)

As with anything in life, self-compassion takes practice. Plain and simple.

But once you start flexing this muscle more, you’ll want to keep it up. Life is so much better when you can treat yourself with gentle care and understanding. 

Here are a few tips to become more self-compassionate:

Related Article: Mindful Living: 4 Helpful Ways to Calm Your Mind & Keep it From Racing



Become Your Own Best Friend

While having close relationships is undeniably important, at the end of the day, you have to take care of you.

Self compassion is part of this. It allows you to treat yourself as you would treat any friend. It doesn’t mean selfishly skipping out on your friend’s big event because you need to get your hair done (or something similar!). 

And most importantly, self-compassion allows you to fully take in the human experience, something we all only get one shot at.

Read Next: 7 Simple Types of Self-Care & How They Bring About Success

Photo by Julia M Cameron


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