Self-Compassion: Honoring and Accepting Your Humanness

Self-Compassion: Honoring and Accepting Your Humanness


By Geraldine “Gerry” Viggiani

Picture this: You are walking into the office for your first day of work. Your new boss shares that there is a meeting in the conference room. When you arrive in the conference room, it is crowded with colleagues, and you notice there is breakfast provided—and coffee! You make your way over to the buffet table to grab much needed coffee and a bagel. Once done, you start to head to an open seat at the conference table with your hot coffee and bagel and you don’t see the chair that is just pulled out enough that you catch your foot on it, trip, and fling your breakfast onto a fellow employee and all over the documents in front of her on the table.

What would you do?

Some might say they would apologize profusely and work on cleaning the mess. They may be overwhelmed with feelings of embarrassment and even shame. That person might not be able to concentrate because they are spending a lot of time replaying the event in their mind and beating themselves up for being so clumsy. They might even have a hard time sleeping and feel withdrawn from colleagues because they feel that everyone thinks they are an idiot. Another person might laugh at themselves or make a joke, apologize once, clean up the mess, and then move on. They feel slightly embarrassed but remember that people make mistakes, and it is not the end of the world. The mishap is just that and is not a reflection of their self-worth.

The first person most likely suffers from the idea that their standards for themselves are much higher than for others. The constant threat of not living up to those standards and the internal berating create anxiety and depression. Often these people are perfectionistic and unrealistic about their goals. There is nothing wrong with striving to do our best, but that must be balanced with some understanding of the fallibility of human experience.

Dr. Kristen Kneff is a guru of self-compassion; she even has a wonderful website called She describes striving towrd self-compassion this way: “[It] means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. It is the balance between our drive, threat, and soothe responses.”

The responses she is referring to speak to different systems in our brain that control feelings of threat, drive, and soothe. “Threat” aims to protect us by preparing us to run away from physical danger, but also non-physical threats, such as worrying, not being able to do things, or beating ourselves up. It can also push “drive,” which is our motivator response to achieve. “Soothe” brings in balance and connection to others as humans. Unbeknownst to us, we are subconsciously always looking to strive for a balance of these systems; when they are not balanced, we feel stress and anxiety.

Kneff goes on to say that “instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, selfcompassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? That does not mean when we make mistakes or fall short that we should make excuses or ignore them, but what it does mean is that we can bring in self compassion. ‘It is understandable that this is upsetting, and I am human so I can fix what needs to be fixed and let go of the rest.’”


Self-kindness vs. self-judgment: Being warm and understanding to ourselves when we fail, make mistakes, or experience life difficulties instead of using hypercritical self-talk while holding ourselves up to impossible standards. We are bound to fail at times and accepting that this is a powerful way to move on.

Common humanity vs. isolation: People who lack selfcompassion tend to think their failings are singular to them, that they are the only ones who should be perfect, and when they fail there is a sense of isolation. In fact, the very essence of the word “human” means mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. When we can recognize that we are not alone, that is when we feel that ever needed bond with other humans. “Everybody makes mistakes.”

Mindfulness vs. over-identification: Mindfulness is a nonjudgmental way to observe our thoughts without suppressing them or negating them. We can validate that there is pain and acknowledge that without over-identifying with it. We can observe without giving the negative thoughts life.


Turn the Tables
What would you say to a friend who is going through the same experiences as you? More likely you would be gentle and kind and non-judgmental. You would most likely remind them of their humanness and that their feelings are valid, and then practice this stance with yourself.

Identify What You Really Want
Utilize that balance between the threat, drive, and soothe responses by bringing in love and kindness as a motivator. This is broken down into three steps:

1. Think about the ways you use self-criticism as a motivator to change. Then, get in touch with the emotional pain your selfcriticism causes, giving yourself compassion for the experience of feeling so judged.

2. See if you can think of a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make a change if needed.

3. Every time you catch yourself being judgmental about your unwanted trait in the future, first notice the pain of your self-judgment and give yourself compassion. Then, try to reframe your inner dialogue so that it is more encouraging and supportive.

Keep a Self-Compassion Journal
On a daily basis, journal about the days’ events and reframe your negative self-talk by writing with a more compassionate voice that contains love and kindness.


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