Three Simple Steps to Greater Self-Compassion Even Under Stress

Lucy Aphramor
5 min readApr 9, 2020
Photo by Marc Pell on Unsplash Image of woodland scene with moss

I’m a big fan of compassion. For the record, I’m not a fan of positive thinking. Compassion is different from positive thinking. If I was nervous before a public speaking event, positive thinking would have me repeat affirmations about how confident I was, and imagine my awesomeness as an inspirational, in-demand, public speaker.

With compassion, I focus on having compassion for the part of myself that is nervous and afraid, being warm and understanding just as I am. Compassion involves accepting the hard emotions rather than trying to change them.

Positive thinking directly seeks change — compassion directly seeks acceptance (which paradoxically can lead to transformation).

Compassion isn’t the same as assertiveness. That said, if someone practised self-compassion they may feel better able to assert themselves as a secondary effect.

While we’re here, mindfulness isn’t about thinking positively either — it’s about trying to notice how things are and not judge them, so not label them positive or negative.

Although I didn’t have the name for it at the time — which is shocking, given all the therapy and mental health input I’d had, and the fact that I was a dietitian — compassion got me through when I’d dropped below the rock bottom. I don’t know if it saved my life, but it sure as hell changed it.

Here’s what I’ve learnt about putting compassion into practice when things hit the fan. There are three steps:

  1. Reality
  2. Common humanity
  3. Kindness

Reality means we’re not sugar-coating events or denying it’s tough by plastering over reality with positive affirmations. (But hey, if you find postive affirmations helpful then get stuck in (N American translation ‘get stuck in’ = ‘fill your boots’). I’m not trying to tell you how to feel or how to live your life, but I do want to make sure I’ve been clear about what compassion is and isn’t — that way we get to create knowledge that’s meaningful, which is sorely needed for social change.)

  1. Your reality might be: this sucks.

Common humanity means recognising that we are not the only person feeling this…

Lucy Aphramor

Lucy Aphramor is a radical dietitian and performance poet. They are Associate Professor of Gender, Power, and The Right to Food at CAWR, Coventry University UK.