Compassion, Relationships

Finding Self-Compassion

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” —Christopher Germer

Life isn’t easy.

It is extraordinary how we can show so much more compassion and understanding for others than we can for ourselves. Generally speaking, people seem to naturally be able to respond empathically to others experiencing problems and yet, when experiencing similar difficulties, a very different voice can be heard. And this voice can be heard in different guises, but it is often self-critical or disapproving. Why is it so hard to be kind and caring toward ourselves during times of difficulty? Where does that harsh, punishing or critical voice come from?

Many hold the belief that they should be able to cope with whatever life throws at them, that they have to keep pushing themselves, setting high expectations, that they ought to be able deal with anything and everything they encounter. When the idea of self-compassion is introduced, it can feel quite alien. For so many of us, the notion of taking a gentle and caring stance toward oneself can seem foreign and in some instances, it can even be met with a sense of contempt eliciting associations of weakness and vulnerability.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion can be understood to be a practice whereby “we learn to be a good friend to ourselves for when we need it the most” (Germer & Neff, 2018). How wonderful if we can be an ally to ourselves rather than an enemy! This involves, with time and practice, cultivating an attitude of warmth and kindness toward ourself. So, with self-compassion it is possible to learn to communicate and listen to ourselves as we might a close friend.

Showing ourselves self-compassion is not the same as being self-indulgent and giving yourself everything you want. It also isn’t self-pity, making excuses or weakness, nor does it undermine ones motivation to succeed—a common misconception. Being self-compassionate certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have high standards but it may mean you no longer feel the need to beat yourself up when you make a mistake.

In reality, self-compassion makes people more resilient to dealing with the difficult situations they are likely to encounter in life and research shows that self-compassionate people tend to have better overall psychological wellbeing.

How will self-compassion help me?

The research points to a powerful link between self-compassion and a demonstrably positive effect on mental and physical well-being. Studies show that individuals who are self-compassionate experience fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, stress, shame, and negative body image—and these same people are more happy in their life, are more optimistic, and have better physical health.

Indeed, practicing self-compassion can transform how you relate to yourself as well as the way you live your life.

Practicing self-compassion

There’s lots of ways to start practicing self-compassion and you may want to consider how to support yourself in integrating self-compassion into your life. A mindful self-compassion (MSC) course could be one means to develop your understanding and practice of self-compassion, and there is also the The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook (Germer & Neff, 2018) referenced below that is a wonderful guide and often accompanies the MSC course.

However, the fundamental question in self-compassion is, “What do I need right now?“. Just by asking yourself this question, you invite a moment of self-compassion. It does not matter if you are unable to find an answer or meet your needs in that moment.

When we are struggling, we can offer ourselves self-compassion, not as a means to make the pain go away but rather to be kind to ourselves precisely because we are in pain. It’s important to understand that when you show yourself self-compassion, you may re-experience historic painful feelings because you are starting to create space for allowing your feelings in.

The term for experiencing any form of emotional, mental or physical uneasiness when engaging in self-compassion is backdraft. When this arises, you can instead ask yourself, “What do I need to feel safe right now?“. Using grounding techniques, like feeling the soles of your feet on the ground to anchor you, or comforting and supporting yourself in a practical way such as making a cup of tea or spending time with a pet, can be ways to help you.

There are lots of different self-compassion mindfulness exercises and meditations that you can try too. In particular, try taking a ‘self-compassion break’ or perhaps making use of ‘soothing touch’, such as placing one or both hands over your heart, placing a hand on your cheek or stroking your arms. You could also come up with different loving-kindness phrases that you can use to send yourself goodwill.

The words of my teacher always echo in mind from my own self-compassion journey—if it’s a struggle, it’s not self-compassion. It can really help to hold this in mind!

There is no controlling life. Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado. Dam a stream and it will create a new channel. Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet. Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground. The only safety lies in letting it all in – the wild and the weak; fear, fantasies, failures and success. When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair, practice becomes simply bearing the truth. In the choice to let go of your known way of being, the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.

by Danna Faulds


Germer, C., Neff, K. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. United Kingdom: Guilford Publications.


Being estranged from family at Christmas

The Christmas holidays can be a particularly difficult time of year for people estranged from members of their immediate family. The focus on family at this time of year, along with the passing comments and assumptions that you will be spending Christmas with your family, can be especially challenging too. However, the majority of people conceal their position because being estranged from either a parent or a grown child is not something that is readily comprehended by those who are removed from such a situation. There can be complicated feelings of shame and a fear of judgement attached to being estranged—for what does having a fractured relationship with ones family imply about you, and what does it denote about your background?

Coping with these feelings at this time of year can be hard and potentially made more difficult by the perpetual reminders of loss, coupled with an inability to talk about these feelings with understanding others. The loss might not be the loss of the relationship itself, which might have even been harmful to your sense of self and wellbeing. Rather, the loss could be associated with not having the possibility of a supportive and sustainable relationship with those you are estranged from. Such losses need to be acknowledged and grieved, although there can be many barriers to grieving a loss of this nature.

To get through the holiday season, there are some things you can do to support yourself. One important source of support can be to connect with others in a similar position to you through online support groups and communities (links below). Because estrangement tends to be an isolating experience, developing connections and having a place where you can safely speak about your experience can help you cope with what you are going through. Seeking professional support therapeutically can also be beneficial to work through and make sense of your experience. Taking a break from social media might also be helpful, especially as feeds fill up with posts of smiling families together celebrating, creating painful reminders of what is missing. Even when being estranged feels like the right choice, it still hurts and arouses painful feelings, such as guilt and shame. Also, developing a support network through friendships and other relationships is an important part of healing in the longer term. Still, these relationships can be especially important to help you get through challenging times of the year like Christmas or birthdays, for instance.

It can also be helpful to think about how you’ve supported yourself through difficult times before. There might be things you did previously that were helpful that you could use again—perhaps you used to keep a journal, practice yoga, go walking etc. Most importantly, though, is being compassionate and kind to yourself when you are struggling. Creating space for self-compassion is fundamental as part of supporting yourself through the difficulties of estrangement at any time of year.

Below are some links to some online support groups:

Other sources of support:

Expat, Relationships

Expat Relationships : Keeping Your Relationship Healthy

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love.” — Sigmund Freud

Moving overseas is both exciting and anxiety provoking.

A move abroad at any time of life presents a considerable adjustment, with new surroundings to navigate, building friendships, perhaps another language to learn, finding out about cultural differences – the list goes on!

Couples and families move for many different reasons – career, lifestyle or something else entirely. However prepared you may or may not have felt, things can feel extremely challenging at times. It is during significant periods of change that we find intimate relationships tend to come under increased pressure. With our in-built need for security, stability and connection with others, these needs become amplified during periods of change.

Expat relationships

When partners have trouble responding lovingly and sensitively to one another during periods of increased pressure and changes in circumstances, feelings of disconnection can mount and couples can feel increasingly misunderstood and unsteady in their relationship. If this continues, over time, relationship problems can escalate – sometimes to the point where things feel lost or hopeless.

You have made a major life change and it is understandable things have impacted on your relationship – that is difficult for anyone. Big changes make us all feel vulnerable on some level and everyone responds to this differently. Some things that can help are to give yourself time, and to try to be understanding with yourself, and one another, about the challenges you have been experiencing.

Patience and consistency are key too – it can take some time to re-build your connection with one another. Relationships require energy, nurturing and patience to flourish – even more so during the most challenging and demanding periods, but of course, this is often when there are less internal resources available for one another.

Remind yourselves of all the good things about your partner – you might have lost sight of these recently! This is especially important if you find yourself in a negative and blaming pattern with one another. To get back into seeing one another more positively and warmly, try to remember what you love about your partner – what each person brings to the relationship and to value one another. Try to put your energy into seeing these special qualities in action and noticing them.

Or it may be that the time has come where you feel you need some support to help you get things back on track together. This is where some couples therapy can be of help, particularly when communication has become increasingly challenging. It can be difficult to take this step – some might feel they are admitting defeat. However, retrieving a relationship becomes harder the longer things go on unresolved.

Estrangement, Relationships

The Pain of Family Estrangement

“There must be room in love for hate.” — Molly Peacock

Definitions of estrangement vary, but at its most basic, estrangement can be understood as the breakdown of a relationship between family members. 

The experience of family estrangement is deeply personal, complex and unique, and there can often be a sense of secrecy and shame surrounding the experience. Individuals estranged from one or more family members, tend to feel the need to hide their situation from others, particularly in case of close family relationships such as parent-child estrangement.

Estrangement can be an intensely stigmatising process, with adult-children being condemned for estranging an ageing parent and similarly, a parent may be harshly judged for ostracising a child. Hence, disclosing their estrangement from members of their family is something that people usually go to great lengths to avoid.

However, the secrecy and silence surrounding the intense hurt of estrangement means there is a lack of support for those experiencing it, particularly within immediate social and wider support networks. Research indicates that family estrangement may not be such a rare occurrence as we might think and of course, estrangement is difficult to quantify since it tends to be such an isolating experience with individuals concealing or minimising their experience to others. 

Estrangement between a parent and a child can be seen as particularly acute, given the uniqueness of this relationship, and the parent-child bond is often socially perceived as permanent and therefore unbreakable. The relationship between a mother and child is arguably one of the most emotionally charged and therefore the most wounding when it breaks down.

Notwithstanding the reasons leading up to a family estrangement, there is an inevitable experience of loss. Often, the losses are multiple and may be felt at different levels by those that are estranged, and arguably the loss is more difficult to reconcile when the one that has been lost is still there. These losses can also extend across the generations involving siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandchildren. This loss has been referred to as ‘disenfranchised grief’ – a loss that cannot be openly mourned or acknowledged (Doka, 1989). This can leave the grieving person feeling inhibited from seeking and receiving support.

However alone someone might feel, seeking support from close friends where possible, or from an experienced psychotherapist who is independent from your circumstances, can offer a way to make sense of your experience and move forward.


Doka, K.J. (1989) Disenfranchised grief. Jossey-Bass.