Dr. Susanna La
Updated: Mar 10
Are you someone who struggles with giving yourself compassion when you’re suffering? Do you notice you can be so much kinder to a friend or loved one than to yourself?
We grow up in a society that tells us to push through our difficulties and to invalidate our emotions by believing that someone else has it worse than we do. We learn to minimize our experiences and deny how much we are actually struggling. If we grew up in a critical home environment, we internalize and take on this critical voice. The constant stream of negative self-talk often leads to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
What is Self-Compassion?
If you want to develop a different relationship with yourself, you may be interested in learning more about self-compassion. According to Dr. Neff (2011), self-compassion refers to treating ourself with understanding and kindness during our time of suffering, perceived failing, and when we make mistakes. In order to have compassion, we start by being aware that there is suffering, responding with a sense of care and concern, and then feeling motivated to do something to help.
If you struggle with compassion for yourself, you can start by thinking about how you typically respond to a good friend when they’re going through a difficult time, and then giving yourself this kindness. You may speak to your friend with a gentle voice and offer comforting words. You may take your friend out for a walk or ice cream as your way to support them. Now, try to consider what your specific needs are when you’re having a difficult time and see if you can offer this to yourself.
Components of Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion has three different components. Depending on where you are on your self-compassion journey, there may be one aspect you can work more on.
Self-kindness involves treating ourself with care and understanding rather than harsh judgment. You can ask yourself, "what do I need right now? What can I do in this moment to help myself?" If you’re someone who struggles with self-criticism and ignoring your pain, self-kindness can be one way to reduce this pattern.
Common humanity helps us to see we are not alone in our suffering, and all human suffering is worthy of compassion. As humans, we all make mistakes, and we are all imperfect. If you struggle with self-isolating, you may benefit from learning more about common humanity.
Mindfulness helps us to be with our painful feelings as they are without avoiding, suppressing, or overidentifying with our emotions. This gives us some space from our emotions and offers us perspective, so we can make healthy choices to support our emotions and wellness.
Benefits of Self-Compassion:
When we treat ourselves with more kindness, care, and support, this naturally helps us to have increased life satisfaction, higher levels of joy, optimism, and better mental wellness. Self-compassion is a more sustainable motivator than criticism and perfectionism as you learn to offer yourself more realistic expectations while supporting your health.
Validating our suffering - By acknowledging and opening up to our painful emotions, we can normalize and accept our feelings. Some validating statements we can say to ourselves when having a hard time are:
“This is a moment of suffering”
“May I give myself the compassion I need”
“May I be kind to myself”
Meditate - Meditating is one way we can develop mindfulness skills, so we can increase awareness and to be nonjudgement of our internal experiences, including emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations associated with our feelings. You may enjoy this meditation using the RAIN technique (recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture) for self-compassion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm1t5FyK5Ek
Take a break - Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is taking a break when we feel overwhelmed or stressed. This can be going for a walk, making sure we take our lunch breaks (i.e., eat and pause from work), going on a vacation (or staycation), or even taking some mindful breaths. Depending on the time we have available, a self-compassionate break can be as short as 30 seconds or as long as is feasible for you.
Reaching out to others - Sometimes, we can benefit from processing things alone. Other times, we can benefit from reaching out to someone who can respond kindly and supportively. This can be your friend, family member, support group, and/or therapist.
If you are interested, you can find more self-compassion exercises on Dr. Kristen Neff’s website: https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises
Why Do We Struggle With Self-Compassion?
If you struggle with self-compassion, know you are not alone. Most people struggle with self-compassion, especially if we grew up in an emotionally invalidating home or experienced abuse/trauma without adequate support. While self-compassion may not be easy to develop, it starts with small daily steps and intentions to treat ourselves kinder, which contributes to significant life changes over time.
Self-compassion helps us to break free from the "Are you good enough?" narrative and into ‘What is good for me?’ practices. Learning to create a kinder relationship with ourself can take time and practice, but your mental health will thank you for it!
If you are looking to increase your self-compassion practices and want to work with us, you can reach out to us through our site.
“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” -Kristen Neff, PhD
“Self-compassion is like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger and more resilient our compassion muscle becomes.” -Sharon Salzberg
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Vulnerability."
Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.