Mindful Self-Compassion for Life’s Difficulties

Sometimes, life is tough.  While most of us strive for happiness and joy, life also includes the hard times that inevitably come.  A family member passes away, a relationship ends, a job is lost, we fail where you thought we would succeed.

And yet, we all respond to life’s difficulties in different ways.  Anger, blame, self-criticism, guilt, avoidance, fear, beating ourselves up.  These are some of the many very normal and human ways of responding to a difficult event.

So this month, I want to add another tool to your repertoire of responses.  A powerful concept called Self-Compassion.

Have you ever had a pet that you loved and adored?  Perhaps a cat or a dog.  I tend to think of self-compassion like that.

Imagine that this beloved pet, say your dog Charlie, got attacked by another dog and got injured.  How would you respond?

Often, we would go straight to compassion – to protecting Charlie, caring for him, and doing what we could to heal him and comfort him.

And yet, how often do we respond to ourselves like that when we face difficulty?

Why do we feel that beating ourselves up is helpful?

Would we ever treat Charlie in that same way of harsh criticism?

For a pet we really loved, it’s hard to even imagine.

And… we can treat ourselves with a high level of care and support.  We can learn to be a loving friend to ourselves, to be kind to ourselves, even when we are facing life’s difficult times.

This is not to say self-compassion is necessarily easy.  If it is new to you, it takes practice to add a new response to your repertoire.

But it is worth a try.  Because the more compassionate we can be with ourselves, the more compassion we can show to others.

Here are a few tips to help with developing mindful self-compassion:

  1. When difficult thoughts and feelings show up, just Notice their presence within you. How does it feel in your body? Label the emotions. Write your thoughts in a journal. The first step is to just Notice what is showing up for you.
  2. See if you can give your difficult thoughts and feelings space to Just Be. There is nothing to “solve” here. Take some time to just allow them to show up as they do without trying to control them. Take a walk, talk to a friend or therapist about them, journal. If your initial reaction is anger, blame, or self-criticism, see if you can just let that reaction come and go. Give yourself some space and time to just be.
  3. Add some kindness. When you feel ready, try some self-compassion. Treat yourself like a beloved pet that is going through a hard time. How would you treat your best friend if they were going through something similar?
  4. Ultimately, know that your successes and failures do not define your value as a person. Realize that you are worthy of love and attention no matter what happens in your life. And even if no one is around, you can offer that loving-attention to yourself.
Here’s a few powerful phrases you can say to yourself and your pain:

“I see you”
“I hear you”
“I’m here for you”

Try these out next time a difficult emotion shows up and see what happens.  Sometimes our pain just needs our loving attention to start to heal.

Self-compassion may feel weird to practice if you are not used to it, but it is possible, and gets easier with intention and time.

Everyday practice, such as taking care of yourself physically, practicing meditation, listening to music you enjoy, talking to supportive people, and doing things you love are easy ways to build your self-compassion practice.

So be gentle with yourself and know that no one is perfect.  You, as well as all people, deserve compassion.

With kindness, and until next time,

Ellis Edmunds

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety and could use the support of a professional, it would be an honor to be of service.  I offer Individual Therapy and Mindfulness Workshops in Oakland, California.