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Self-Compassion: Treating Ourselves Like a good friend

One way to help us feel safe is through self-compassion. Self-compassion involves being open to our experiences of suffering instead of avoiding or disconnecting from them, creating the aspiration to heal with kindness. By practicing self-compassion, we learn to talk to ourselves like a good friend who is struggling. Often, we can be our own enemy. When we struggle, feel inadequate, or inevitably experience failures, it is our instinct as humans to try to push away the experience (“I don’t like this feeling”). We may also judge ourselves for the experience (“I shouldn’t have this feeling”; “I’m bad because I have this feeling”). Our mind naturally goes to these thoughts and judgments, and this is where doing something different by practicing self-compassion can be particularly useful. To be more mindful of our experience, sometimes it can be helpful to self-soothe and give ourselves comfort for how hard it is to be a human before we can relate to our lives and experience in a more mindful way. Self-compassion offers a nonjudgmental understanding of pain, shortcomings, and failures so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience. Through self-compassion, we can become an inner ally rather than an inner enemy. The quintessential aspect of self-compassion is asking yourself, “what do I need?” by inviting and honoring what we need at the moment, we learn to be a good friend to ourselves. At the same time, it is also about knowing what feels right at the moment and not pushing ourselves to go to places that aren’t emotionally safe. Experiencing discomfort is necessary to foster self-compassion, but we do not need to face the emotions fully. Instead, we only need to touch the emotional pain to cultivate self-compassion. To break it down, the three components of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness involves giving ourselves warmth and unconditional acceptance instead of attacking ourselves for being inadequate by actively soothing and comforting ourselves. Common humanity consists of recognizing that all humans are flawed, make mistakes, fail, and experiences hardships- pain is a part of the human experience that can be utilized as a moment of connection with others. Mindfulness is the first step needed to be self-compassionate because we need to be present to respond in a new or different way; and face the distressing experiences – this can be freeing! When we mindfully observe our experience, we can meet the truth of our experience (even when it is unpleasant). It prevents us from being absorbed by unhelpful thoughts/feelings (rumination). There are various benefits of increasing self-compassion, including increased happiness, life satisfaction, self-confidence, and physical health along with a decrease in depression, anxiety, stress, and shame. Understandably, self-compassion can be difficult, and it takes time to learn new habits. Instead of aiming to be a self-compassionate person, it may be more helpful to learn to be more self-compassionate. attention to what comforts and soothes you and what you need in the moment, and take action when needed. Can you give yourself a break? Can you be more kind to yourself? As always, you are the expert of your own experience.

-Hannah Pavett, M.A

Adapted from the mindful self-compassion work

book by Neff & Germer:

Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: a proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. The Guilford Press.

*If you are interested in specific self-compassion exercises to practice, check out more helpful tools from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work!


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