5 Things People with Self-Compassion Do

5 Things People with Self-Compassion Do

Dr. Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as having three elements: “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.” In order to engage self-compassion, one must observe the suffering, “feel moved” by or honoring it, and find a way to comfort and care for ourselves in the moment of suffering. It is an essential resource.  And it can be elusive. We often take the well-travelled roads that we hope will lead us there- dieting or losing weight, cleanses, seeking an intimate partner relationship, applying for a job promotion, looking for ways to earn more money, effecting some huge life change. None of these are bad; in fact, they can bring us a lot of joy and satisfaction and benefit us. They just aren’t enough to improve and maintain our self-compassion.

When we have low self-compassion, we often seek out a lot of external validation, need to be liked at any cost, employ escapist tactics (substances, technology, food, shopping, etc.), accept disrespect or mistreatment from others, and are either critical of ourselves or are narcissistically defended against our own flaws. The lower our self-compassion, the more we engage in these behaviors and the lower our self-compassion plummets. It’s a real bummer of a cycle.

There are five critical behaviors to help improve your level of self-compassion. They are usually avoided by people who have trouble respecting themselves. If you suffer from a lack of self-compassion, you might read this and think, “Well, I don’t engage these behaviors precisely because I lack self-compassion. Then what?” It might seem impossible to unstick yourself from that catch-22.

I urge you to take a risk. Just try it. Try doing what people with self-compassion do and see how it feels. Just see if you feel any difference. If you hate it, and you decide you are happier with things as they were before, then that’s fine. I think you might like the results, though.

So, what are some of the tricks used by people who have self-compassion?


  • They set boundaries. They say “no” to things that don’t work for them. They don’t accept disrespectful treatment. They let people know the terms that are both acceptable and unacceptable to them and hold that line. They’d rather live in integrity with themselves than be liked and accepted by others.
  • They forgive themselves. People who have compassion for themselves don’t rake themselves over and over the coals if they slip up. They learn from it. They understand that mistakes are par for the course and that it’s ok. They know that they are not their mistakes.
  • They allow themselves to fail. They allow themselves to be wrong or fall flat on their faces or come in last. They understand that this means they took a risk, put themselves out there, made an attempt at something. They gather the information from the failure and try again because they know that this time, they’re approaching the task with a better understanding. (This doesn’t mean they’re happy about the failure. It might still feel shitty. It can still feel totally frustrating.)
  • They apply self-discipline. They set boundaries for themselves, too, tell themselves “no.” People with self-compassion know that they feel better about themselves when they balance fun with responsibility, health with decadence, relaxation with work. They know that they’ll feel shitty about themselves if they watch too much TV, eat too much garbage, and go to bed too late. They have a good understanding of what their effort will get them, so they apply it.
  • They honestly identify their short-comings. People who have self-compassion are honest with themselves and others about their flaws. They know that to identify where they fall short means that they are less likely to take on more than they manage. They are more likely to work within their scope of competence, setting themselves up for a better chance of success. If they make a mistake, they’re more likely to hold themselves accountable for it. People with self-compassion don’t dwell on their flaws or invisibilize their positive attributes while highlighting the negatives. They use the information about their flaws to apply themselves in their endeavors.

I know that to some this list looks daunting. I get it. Patterns are hard to break, and we engage them for a reason. If you’re dissatisfied with your level of self-compassion and would like to come up with a plan together about how to troubleshoot this, I would love to talk with you about it!


Love and Be Loved,

The Power of No

The Power of No

To quote Tina Fey’s geniusly played character on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Some people are scared of conflict, but… it gets shit done.” She’s right. Conflict, when managed appropriately, gets shit done. I often use this space to talk about how to effectively manage conflict and what it looks like when conflict is mismanaged. I’d like to take a minute to sing the praises of the conflict itself. And what better way to find yourself in conflict than when you say “no”?

You and I both know you don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to your neighbor talk about his kids when you’re just trying to get into your house after a long day. You don’t want to stay late to work on the work thing that everyone else has blown off any more than I do. And you don’t want to accept the disrespectful treatment from that friend who is a friend, but more of a nuisance. And you and I also know that we’ve said yes to all of these things. We’ve listened to the neighbor, put in work that everyone else has shirked, and accepted the disrespect for a lot of reasons. It felt easier than setting a boundary; we wanted to people-please; we didn’t know how not to engage in the first place. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy, especially at first. You have to say no. There’s no way around it.

When you accept treatment you don’t want; you’re saying to yourself and others, “You don’t have to respect me. I don’t respect me either. I’m more concerned with being accepted by you than I am with liking myself.” That’s a dissatisfying and precarious way to live. Frankly, it’s a perfect recipe for resentment.

And I get it. You might be thinking, “Ok, but if I respected myself I wouldn’t have a problem saying ‘no’ in the first place.” And you’re right. There’s no easy answer here. You just have to start saying “no.” Start anywhere. When your neighbor starts talking to you, greet him but tell him you’ll have to catch him later. Stand up for yourself at work and say that you can’t stay late either or that you don’t want to be the only person working on the project. Assert yourself with your nuisance-friend and tell him you’re not going to go out of your way to give him rides anymore.

We accept subpar treatment because some part of us believes that we deserve it. Start showing yourself that you deserve respect. Show yourself how good it feels when you assert your needs.

I also want to be respectful of what might have made you feel that you’re not allowed to say “no” or that when you do it’s not heard. Trauma can make us feel like it’s not safe to say “no” or that it won’t matter if we do because, at some point, this was true. We keep living as if it continues to be true. Whether it’s childhood abuse, domestic violence, bullying, implicit messaging from parents or other impactful relationships, there are many roads that could have led us to say “yes” when we’d rather say “no.” Working through this requires effort, and it’s totally possible to get there.

If you’d like to be able to set your boundaries and access your self-respect, I’d love to help you.

Get yourself to a place where you can set a boundary because you know your experience and feelings matter. Get yourself to a place where you trust yourself enough to say “no.”


Love and Be Loved,

Defeat Dread

Defeat Dread

What do you dread? What makes you procrastinate or immerse yourself in distraction or lose sleep or start and stop a hundred times before you actually do the thing? Some of us dread nearly everything. Some of us dread a few things here and there. (Some people don’t really dread much of anything and to you, I say congratulations, please show the rest of us how you stay so present, and this article isn’t meant for you.)


Many of us live in a constant state of dead (also known as anxiety); some of us are conscious of this and some aren’t. We dread things that will never actually happen, things that could realistically happen but aren’t right now, and things we can’t identify. We try out various types of behavior to manage this dread, but it doesn’t ever really abate.


In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Mastering Clinical Challenges (Butler, Fennell, Hackmann) anxiety is described as “a complimentary overestimation of the likelihood and magnitude of negative outcomes and an underestimation of internal or external resources by which catastrophe might be managed.” I love this. Anxiety/dread is the overestimation of obstacles and the underestimation of resources. It’s such an organized way of looking at anxiety and dread.


This overestimation of an event and underestimation of our ability to handle it manifests in the form of cognitive distortions. We find our brains swimming in thoughts like “I’ll never be in a loving relationship again,” “There is something wrong with me,” “I’ll never be able to handle this,” or “This is all my fault.” (And really that’s a tiny list of cognitive distortions. There is no limit to the thoughts we can think that will reinforce our fears.)


David Burns, M.D. compiled a list of the types of cognitive distortions we use. (And if you check out his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, you might find some other useful information.) When we’re freaking out we are usually doing at least one of these:

-All or nothing thinking (black and white thinking, absolutes)

-Overgeneralization (viewing a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat)

-Mental Filter (dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives)

-Discounting the positives (insisting positives or accomplishments don’t count)

-Jumping to conclusions (mind reading and fortune telling- both from negative perspective)

-Magnification or Minimization (blowing things out of proportion or shrinking their importance)

-Emotional Reasoning (“I feel like an idiot, so I must be one,” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”)

-Should Statements (or “shouldn’t,” “must,” “have to,”)

-Labeling (identifying with mistakes or shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” saying “I’m a loser,” or “a fool.”)

-Personalization and Blame (blaming ourselves for something for which we weren’t entirely responsible or blaming other people and overlook ways that our attitudes and behavior might have contributed to a problem)


When we’re in them, it can be challenging to identify which distortions we’re using (or that we are using any of them at all). What to do? A helpful step is 1) slowing down and trying to identify what you are doing and which distortions you are employing so that you can gain a little bit of perspective and stop being dominated by your dread and anxiety. 2) If you’re having difficulty identifying any and it all just seems like rational thought, try getting out of your head and back into your body. Breathe deeply and notice how your abdominal muscles feel as you inhale and exhale. Notice any sensations you feel in your body and acknowledge them.

Some people find that the first two steps are enough, that once they have calmed themselves a bit and identified their irrational thinking, they are back in control. Sometimes the situation calls for more backup. When it does, you can try 3) examining the evidence that proves (or disproves) your distortion. If your distortion is saying “I never do anything right,” you can list things that you know you have done right. And even with the best tools, it’s still easy to fall down the rabbit hole of dread and anxiety. If you want to walk through it together, I’d love to tackle it with you.


Love and Be Loved,

Why Do I Keep Doing That?!

Why Do I Keep Doing That?!

Sometimes we feel stuck. And it’s not always about feeling stuck in a job, a town, a daily routine, or a relationship. Sometimes we feel stuck in the way of being, stuck drinking too much, stuck in an unhealthy eating pattern, stuck in technology and devices, being passive aggressive when we would rather self-advocate, doing everything for everyone else and not having enough left for ourselves, stuck in anger, in fear, in anxiety, stuck in insecurity. We know living like this makes us unhappy, and we want to change, but it feels insurmountable, and we’re not sure where to start. When we do make moves to change, we find it hard to maintain the behavior. And when we finally learn to maintain it, as soon as we feel start connect with the belief that we can accomplish our goal we find ourselves self-sabotaging or it seems that life suddenly takes a turn and prevents us from forging on toward our goal.

In my “You Are Enough” post I talk about the messages we receive in early attachment and how they help inform the beliefs we hold about ourselves and the way we live our lives. We integrate the messages into the stories we tell about who we are, and they become agreements we hold with ourselves. We are mostly unconscious of these agreements because they were made over time, from a young age, and often under some duress.

Feeling trapped in this constant state of stuck is often about the beliefs we have turned into agreements. Merriam-Webster defines belief as “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.” The same source defines agreement as “harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling; a position or result of agreeing, the absence of incompatibility between two things; consistency.” Our behavior is predicated on the beliefs we hold about ourselves; it is the manifestation of the agreements we have made about who we are and what we do. Our behavior is compatible with our core self-beliefs.

Let’s say someone has a core belief in herself that she is powerless. We’ll call her Julie. Julie attended a self-improvement workshop three weeks ago and had set goals to be in a loving relationship, connect to her sense of purpose, and develop and maintain a self-care program. She has been keeping up with her routine fairly regularly, but lately, her boss has been asking her to stay late at work which has been getting in the way of the goals she set at the workshop. When she comes home, she’s tired and frustrated and just wants to relax in front of the TV eating her dinner. Julie will either have to learn to set boundaries with her boss at work or pick her routine back up when she gets home from work instead of watching TV. Because at her core she believes that she is powerless, these options are not only terrifying but in direct conflict with her belief. If Julie believes she is powerless any amount of struggle might disrupt her effort. She has learned that any amount of effort is moot because nothing she can do will ever be enough to get her where she wants to be. What’s the point? The pull that Julie is feeling is to give up because once again she tried and once again it didn’t work. Yikes, Julie. I feel you.

What agreements have you made with yourself? Have you agreed not to speak up for yourself because you believe that your needs don’t matter? Have you agreed to be busy at break-neck speed because you believe that busy-ness equals worthiness? Have you agreed to pick relationships in which you feel smothered because you believe that you have to choose between extremes of either being smothered or ignored?

Once we start to notice our patterns we can start making some sense out of why we do what we do and what we need to make sustainable changes. We don’t have to feel like life just happens to us. We can stop creating our suffering.

And if you haven’t already read a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I recommend doing it. The book describes in detail the impact of self-beliefs, the agreements we make with ourselves, and how to take steps toward changing our beliefs and agreements to reflect who we want to be and how we want to live.


Love and Be Loved,