A sense of interconnectedness is central to self-compassion. It’s recognizing that all humans are flawed works-in-progress, that everyone fails, makes mistakes, and experiences hardship in life. Self-compassion honors the unavoidable fact that life entails suffering, for everyone, without exception. While this may seem obvious, it’s so easy to forget. We fall into the trap of believing that things are “supposed” to go well and that something has gone wrong when they don’t. Of course, it’s highly likely—in fact inevitable—that we’ll make mistakes and experience hardships on a regular basis. This is completely normal and natural.
Self-compassion honors the unavoidable fact that life entails suffering, for everyone, without exception.
But we don’t tend to be rational about these matters. Instead, not only do we suffer, we feel isolated and alone in our suffering. When we remember that pain is part of the shared human experience, however, every moment of suffering is transformed into a moment of connection with others. The pain I feel in difficult times is the same pain you feel in difficult times. The circumstances are different, the degree of pain is different, but the basic experience of human suffering is the same.
This informal practice can be done slowly as a sort of mini-meditation, or you can use the words as a three-part phrase when you encounter difficulties in daily life.
A Guided Self-Compassion Practice
This practice is a way to help remind ourselves to apply the three core components of self-compassion—mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness— when difficulties arise in our lives. It also harnesses the power of soothing touch to help us feel safe and cared for. It’s important to find language that is effective for you personally—you don’t want to have an internal argument about whether the words make sense. For example, some people prefer the word struggle to the word suffering, or prefer the word support or protect to the word kindness. Try out a few different variations and then practice what works for you.
After reading through these instructions, you may want to try them out with your eyes closed so you can go inward more deeply.
Guided Self-Compassion Practice
Think of a situation in your life that is causing you stress, such as a health problem, relationship problem, work problem, or some other struggle.
- Choose a problem in the mild to moderate range, not a big problem, as we want to build the resource of self-compassion gradually.
- Visualize the situation clearly in your mind’s eye. What is the setting? Who is saying what to whom? What is happening? What might happen?
- Can you feel discomfort in your body as you bring this difficulty to mind? If not, choose a slightly more difficult problem.
- Now, try saying to yourself: “This is a moment of suffering.” That’s mindfulness. Perhaps other wording speaks to you better. Some options are: This hurts. Ouch. This is stressful.
- Now, try saying to yourself: “Suffering is a part of life.” That’s common humanity. Other options include: I’m not alone. Everyone experiences this, just like me. This is how it feels when people struggle in this way.
- Now, offer yourself the gesture of soothing touch that you discovered in the previous exercise. And try saying to yourself: “May I be kind to myself” or “May I give myself what I need.”
- Perhaps there are particular words of kindness and support that you need to hear right now in this difficult situation. Some options may be: May I accept myself as I am. May I begin to accept myself as I am. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I be patient.
- If you’re having difficulty finding the right words, imagine that a dear friend or loved one is having the same problem as you. What would you say to this person? What simple message would you like to deliver to your friend, heart to heart?
- Now see if you can offer the same message to yourself.
Excerpt adapted from The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer.
Read more from Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s new book, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, in the February issue of Mindful Magazine:
Leading experts on mindful self-compassion Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer share how self-kindness, recognition of our humanity, and mindfulness give us the strength to thrive. Read More.