Whether you are struggling with grief or some other kind of pain–breakup, job loss, sexual abuse, a loved one’s addiction, or having hurt another–you deserve self-compassion. It’s a key ingredient to healing, learning, growing, and moving forward. It’s also the key to good mental health.

Self-compassion means showing yourself kindness and understanding rather than ignoring or numbing the pain, drowning yourself in blame or self-criticism. When you engage in endless self-criticism, you are tearing yourself down and making things worse. What’s more, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to learn and grow from the adverse experience.

What happened was unfair, awful, and just plain sucks

Sometimes you feel “this had to happen for a reason.”

Honestly, you are not being singled out by a power greater than yourself to teach you a lesson although you might learn a lesson or two in the process. If awful things were evenly distributed to those who deserved it there would be no serial killers because they’d get their due.

It’s OK to acknowledge all that as you find your path forward. Right now, when the pain hits hard, trust the process and that it won’t last forever. You can do this. And don’t do it alone. Support and help are signs of strength, not weakness.

Don’t avoid or numb your difficult emotions

Instead, feel them.

Basic Pain Management Plan

  1. Feel and sit with the pain, the intensity of which usually lasts 60-90 seconds
  2. Exercise self-compassion (tips below)
  3. Notice when it lifts. And it will since no feeling is permanent.
  4. When it lifts, you can distract yourself with a healthy coping strategy.

If you don’t distract yourself with a healthy coping strategy, like exercise, cleaning, painting, or journaling, once the pain lifts, that emotion can refire and cause you more agony than necessary. Who wants that?

What self-compassion phrases do you say to yourself?

It’s the self-compassion step that keeps you from falling into the trap of thinking you deserve the pain and therefore subject yourself to more of it. There is nothing to be gained by holding yourself hostage for eternity. That will only keep you trapped in that hole of darkness and despair.

From the pain management plan above, we’re going to focus on #2, Exercise self-compassion. It means that in those moments when the emotional pain hits hard, takes you to the floor, and sits on your heart, you don’t allow the mean voice to take over making it all worse–making it all last longer than it needs to.

That mean voice may start to make snarky comments, but you do have control over whether it takes over.

Phrases like, “Here you go again feeling sorry for yourself,” are unhelpful.

And if you do say things like that to yourself, talk back to it and say, “Hey don’t talk to me like that. It’s not helpful.”

Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend. Because let’s face it. Some of the stuff we say to ourselves we’d never say to a friend.

Think about phrases to say to yourself. Thoughtful phrases. You need more than one because different ones fit different situations.

When I was in early grief right after my son Charles’s death by suicide, I would say, “AnneMoss, I know this hurts. You are doing the best you can. This will subside.”

Another one was, “AnneMoss, this agony is just an example of the love you had and still have for Charles. This won’t last forever but it is the bond you have with him so let it in.”

And “AnneMoss, you will survive. This will not kill you although it feels like it will.”

That’s self-compassion. What are your phrases?

I did torture myself with blame but I had a process to lessen that suffering, too. But most importantly I accepted the blaming and pain as part of the process of integrating the loss into my life and used self-compassion phrases in that process, too. In short, it was my process to healing and finding joy in my life again.

When I struggled with guilt over my son’s suicide, I had a list of phrases for that, too. This was my go-to self-compassion statement. “My son grew up in a house of love. It wasn’t something I said or did that caused him to suicide and besides that, I can’t control the actions of another. I am hyperfocusing on the 5% of parenting I did imperfectly, ignoring the 90% I did right.”

How does self-compassion help you grow?

  1. You learn and practice being kind to yourself and not make things worse by tearing yourself apart. You start to make it a habit.
  2. You recognize that trauma, failure, and pain are part of the human experience. You are a beautiful and imperfect human like everyone else.
  3. You don’t allow the mean voices and self-criticism to take over. If it’s an error on your part, you can feel remorse and compassion towards yourself at the same time. Instead, talk back to those voices and stand up for yourself with phrases of self-compassion.
  4. You tell yourself, however awful and unfair the circumstances that brought you the pain, you will learn to weave the experience into the tapestry of your life and try and learn from it.

There are no perfect people in the world. And success is a place where we arrive having learned from lots of failures and hard times. And by offering yourself compassion you are not being egotistical, you are embracing self-improvement.