AMK Counseling

Relating to Ourselves with Self-Compassion

By Meagan Marsh, LCSW

A common response I hear from clients when discussing self-compassion is that others deserve it, not them. Oftentimes they describe a tendency to dismiss their pain as unimportant or minimize the legitimacy of it, and automatically criticize themselves for experiencing disappointment, sadness or embarrassment in the first place.

As we explore these behavioral tendencies, many clients reflect on how commonplace it is to be
taught about the importance of being a good friend to others, while noticing the rarity of being
coached on how to turn that empathy, patience and encouragement inward. Most clients unveil
a disparity in tone of voice and the amount of warmth and acceptance provided to a friend going
through a difficult time versus themselves. It’s usually around this time that I’m able to garner a
side smile or grin when asking the rhetorical question about which relationship of theirs will last
a lifetime. The one with ourselves, of course!

We acknowledge the importance of the brain’s biological programming to evade emotional pain
by problem solving or telling them to ‘get over it’, and explore the function of engaging in habits
that may have been internalized from caregivers’ actions or were a means for survival.
Eventually we begin to outline the possibility of letting go of an approach that may have served
them in the past, and invite in a way of relating to themselves that is more effective and
enjoyable to be around.
Below is an outline of the three components of self-compassion as identified by Dr. Kristin Neff,
PhD, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research:

Mindfulness is the practice of acknowledging the current moment as it is, without judgment or
attempting to change it. First, we must notice we’re in pain, the same way we take note when
others are hurting. Perhaps we feel embarrassed, afraid or inadequate. Without ignoring or
exaggerating, we want to observe our thoughts and emotions.

Ways to practice:
– What emotions might I be feeling right now?
– Acknowledge the pain with a statement like things are really hard right now.
– Label judgments and unhelpful thoughts with a de-fusion statement like I notice I’m having the
thought that…

Common Humanity: To be human is to be imperfect, to make mistakes and feel painful
emotions. It’s easy to forget that everyone feels inadequate at times, especially when we’re
struggling and feel isolated in our experience, as if it is only us who is suffering.

How can we remind ourselves of our connection to others?
– How am I the same as others?
– Others experience this too.

– It’s okay, we all make mistakes.

Self-Kindness: Rather than ignore or punish ourselves for making a mistake or having a
difficult time, we want to offer understanding and comfort, just as we would a friend. By denying
our pain, we prolong our suffering.

Ways to do this:
-What do I need in this moment? Notice the pace of your breath. Engage in a timed distraction.
-What would I say to a friend in the same situation? Can I say that to myself?
-Offer compassionate touch like resting your cheeks in the palms of your hands or wrapping
your arms around your chest in a hug. Skin to skin contact helps shift the nervous system into a
state of rest, digest and befriend.

“…having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your
humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will
encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up
against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a
reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of
constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for
yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.” – Dr. Kristin Neff