Self-Compassion: Why We Sometimes Feel Worse Before We Feel Better

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morning in a field

“Self-compassion takes strength, courage, and faith. Trust the process, and allow yourself to slowly let in more self-compassion, more kindness, a few degrees at a time.”

The research is clear: self-compassion is a much more effective and healthy approach than shame or self-esteem. People with greater self-compassion have less depression, anxiety, and stress—and greater happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, resilience, and performance.

However, when we practice self-compassion, strong and painful emotions may arise at first. Self-compassion takes us into the depths of our heart where we hold our most painful and tender memories and experiences. As we practice self-compassion, it can unveil these pains, allowing them to rise to the surface of our consciousness.

Keep offering yourself compassion, especially for the painful emotions that are arising. Use mindfulness to explore with openness and curiosity where you feel the emotions in your body. If the experience becomes too distressing, it is okay to simply pause and say to yourself: This is really hard. It’s time to rest and take a break. I can come back to this when I’m ready.

Self-compassion takes strength, courage, and faith. Trust the process, and allow yourself to slowly let in more self-compassion, more kindness, a few degrees at a time. You can begin again in any moment.


Self-Compassion in Practice

Call to mind a current challenge you are facing. Perhaps it is a struggle with one of your children. Or maybe you missed a deadline at work and are afraid of what your boss or colleagues will say. Or it is a difficulty with late-night eating. Choose one struggle that you want to work with.


Mindfulness: Please write down the situation as clearly and objectively as possible. See if you can mindfully acknowledge your emotions and become aware of any accompanying body sensations (e.g. tightness in my throat, fear in my chest). Be aware of how you may be judging yourself for what happened. Write down anything you notice.


Kindness: Write down some kind statements that you could make to yourself in the face of this situation. For example: “This is painful. I am here with you.” “You are worried about your son. This is scary for you.” “It’s okay to make mistakes, I am learning.” “You are overeating because you feel lonely. I care about you.” As you write these kind statements, you may want to pause and put your hand on your heart as a gesture of self-care.


Common humanity: Remind yourself how natural it is for hard times to arise, and for you to feel scared, or frustrated, or sad. Reflect on all the other people in the world who might be in a very similar situation right now. Write down your reflections. For example: “It is natural to feel sad after having an argument with my son. Many parents struggle with their children.” As you connect in your mind and heart with others in your same situation, try sending them and yourself compassion and kindness. For example: “I love my son and I feel scared about his safety. I imagine many parents are scared about their children. I am sending compassion to myself and all parents.”

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