Self-Empathy: How to Connect with Yourself

Loving yourself, taking care of yourself, and recognizing your own needs, just as you do for others. This is what self-empathy means. Discover how to start practicing it here!
Self-Empathy: How to Connect with Yourself
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

How are you feeling today? How do you feel right now? Do you need anything? What are you longing for? Self-empathy is an exercise in well-being and psychological health that people often tend to neglect. Nevertheless, looking inside yourself is the first step to showing empathy towards others. Consequently, it forms the starting point of any enriching relationship, both with yourself and other people.

However, people often neglect this ability, even though it’s very important. In fact, there’s nothing more important than knowing how to understand others, put yourself in their shoes, and act accordingly.

However, the best way to be empathetic is to be emotionally self-aware. In addition, only the empathetic people that are able to recognize their own needs and emotions and respond to them manages to achieve real happiness.

A boy with lights around his face.

What’s self-empathy?

Self-empathy is the ability to connect with yourself in an affectionate and respectful way. In fact, “affection” and “respect” are extremely important here. Although you’re used to talking to yourself and connecting with your inner self, you probably don’t always do it properly. People have a tendency to be rather negative with themselves.

You might criticize and wear yourself down with the kind of inner dialogue that offers more chaos than calm. This is very negative. In fact, this lack of self-empathy leads to stress and anxiety. Consequently, you become one of those people who give more to others than you offer yourself.

Although Daniel Goleman didn’t write about self-empathy in his book Emotional Intelligence, he included the concept of “emotional self-awareness”. This means monitoring your internal states, preferences, intuitions, needs, and every emotion as and when it occurs.

The keys to developing self-empathy

Godfrey T. Barrett-Leonard is a psychology professor at Murdoch University (Australia). He conducted a study on self-empathy. In the study, he explained that the task of every psychotherapist during therapy is to train their patient in this basic and essential ability.

This is because many people spend much of their lives neglecting their feelings. In fact, there are many who simply become so absorbed in their own surroundings that they forget how to access their own emotions, thoughts, and desires. However, restoring self-empathy should always be a priority.

Here’s how to achieve it.

Observe without judging and look after yourself

Self-empathy requires you to notice and recognize that you’re here. You need to recognize that there’s a part of you who suffers, feels sad, gets excited, and feels hopeful. It means you can observe yourself without judging nor criticizing yourself for feeling the way you do.

Stop putting yourself last. Look after yourself in a direct and open-minded way. It’ll give you back your ability to make changes. These changes will boost your feelings of well-being.

Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend

If you don’t talk to yourself respectfully, who will? Furthermore, if you can’t communicate with yourself affectionately, how can you expect others to do so? Self-empathy requires you to speak to yourself as if you were your best friend.

Emotional self-awareness is nourished by understanding and your ability to listen and embrace who you are. See yourself as you are and feel no shame for who you are.

Forgive yourself today, tomorrow, and always

If self-empathy is to be useful, genuine, and meaningful, it mustn’t stem from rejection or criticism. For example, are you cross with yourself because you always seem to end up making the same mistakes? Do you feel you’ve missed important opportunities? Are you dissatisfied with yourself for not being brave enough to do certain things?

These feelings stop you from exercising a healthy and restorative self-empathy. Therefore, you need to forgive yourself. You deserve it. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, because you lacked experience. Forgive yourself for letting people hurt you, because you didn’t have a crystal ball to know it was going to happen.

Give yourself the forgiveness you deserve. Then, you can heal and empathize with yourself as you should.

A flower.

Life is a challenge

Anger, rage, fear, disappointment, anxiety, worry… life will always be an ongoing challenge and it’ll always put you to the test. Furthermore, when things go wrong, it’s normal to experience complicated emotions. However, if you neglect your inner self and look away from what you feel, think, need, and care about, you’ll feel helpless, lose control, and get stressed and anxious.

Self-empathy involves putting up with all those turbulent feelings you sometimes experience. In fact, accepting what you feel and giving yourself the love you need is the ideal way to initiate change. Then, you can move from instability and turbulence to balance and calm.

Alfred Adler said that empathy is the ability to look through someone else’s eyes, listen with someone else’s ears, and feel with someone else’s heart. However, remember that you can’t achieve this properly unless you first get to know yourself, listen to yourself, and fill your heart with self-love.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Barrett-Lennard, G. (1997). The recovery of empathy: Toward others and self. In Bohart, A. & Greenberg, L. , Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (pp. 103–121). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press. doi:10.1037/10226-004
    • Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation (pp. 121-137). Springer, New York, NY.
    • Sherman, N. (2014) Recovering lost goodness: Shame, guilt, and self-empathy. Psychoanalytic Psychology 31: 217–235.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.