We all have something we don’t like about ourselves; something that reduces self-confidence and makes us feel ashamed, insecure, or not “good enough.” It’s normal. Failing, being imperfect and feeling inadequate are all part of being human.
When you feel bad about yourself, this exercise (adapted from the work of self-compassion pioneer Kristin Neff) can help you feel better. Writing a compassionate letter enables you to refocus your thoughts and feelings on being supportive, helpful and caring. It provides an opportunity to engage with your problems and life challenges in a new, positive way. Rather then harsh judgment and criticism, you offer yourself understanding and warmth. Looking back at what you’ve written will help you reflect on your life and provide valuable insights.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
- Think about an issue or aspect of yourself that makes you feel flawed, insecure, awkward or bad such as your appearance or a relationship or work issue. It may help to recall an event where you felt distressed or upset. What emotions arise when you think about this “flaw”: sadness, anger, vulnerability, fear, frustration, depression…? Be truthful. Honesty is absolutely necessary to successfully connect with difficult thoughts and emotions so you can begin the healing process.
- Imagine that you have a wise, compassionate, wonderful friend who loves and cares deeply about you. She knows your history, sees your strengths and weaknesses and understands that everyone is imperfect. Once you have a clear image of this friend, write a supportive letter to yourself from her perspective focusing on the perceived inadequacy or “flaw” you judge yourself for. Think about what this good friend would say as you share your feelings with her. How would she support and advise you? What suggestions would she make? Don’t over think it. Just feel compassion for yourself and let the kind, positive, understanding, encouraging words flow.
Here’s an outline you can use. Remember, you’re writing from your friend to you:
Dear (your name),
I am so sorry you are feeling ______, ______, ______ and _______. It
makes sense that you feel ______ because of ______. I know how you feel
and sometimes when I feel ____ my thoughts and emotions are really
powerful and negative and I don’t see things clearly. I have a
couple of suggestions to help you feel better. When I’m feeling _____ and
____ I often _____ and ____. I want to let you know that I think you are ____, ____
Remember there is no right or wrong way to do this. You can use my
example or create your own. What’s key is infusing your letter with kindness, acceptance, encouragement, caring and understanding. After you write the letter set it aside for a few days or a week and then read it again fully feeling the words of comfort and support.
“Love, connection, and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them you need only look at yourself.” —Kristin Neff