How do you treat a friend: An exercise in self compassion
How would I treat a friend?
Self Compassion Exercise
Dr Rhonda Emonson PhD
Adapted from the work of Neff, K. D. (2012)
So what is self Compassion?
There are three main components of self compassion: Self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
What is self-compassion?
It is generally accepted that the easiest way to understand what self-compassion is, is that self compassion is a way of treating yourself with the same kindness, care, concern and understanding you would show to a good friend when they were struggling. I think you would agree, we are often not aware of how we treat ourselves or we do not like the way we treat ourselves. Or especially, how we treat ourselves compared to how we do treat our good friends.
We let them know it’s okay to be human when they fail. We reassure them of our respect and support when they’re feeling bad about themselves. We comfort them when they’re going through hard times. We reassure them of our respect and support when they’re feeling not so good. We comfort them when they’re going through hard times. In other words, most of us are very good at being understanding, kind and compassionate toward others.
So what many of us notice is that we are vastly kinder toward our friends when they are struggling. For some strange reason our culture tells us that this is the way we should be — women especially — or else we’ll become self-centered egomaniacs. But is it true? It is a very, very common pattern for the general population. In fact, if this sounds familiar, you know what? You are like most others and that is comforting.
Let us do a short exercise together
This exercise explores how we treat our friends and how we treat ourselves when we are experiencing emotional difficulty. I think you will notice there is a significant difference in how you care for yourself compared to how you care for others.
The exercise is called, ‘How do I treat a friend’ and is adapted from the work of Neff (2012). This is a writing exercise, so turn to your preferred journalling method—whether that is pen and paper, a word doc, or an online tool—to record your responses.
I will provide you with the steps and when it is your turn to write, complete each question and response in your own time. There are right or wrong answers...just your perspective. Perhaps make yourself a soothing drink, make yourself comfortable, turn off mobile devices and shut the door. You are entitled to have at least 15 minutes undisturbed. You are important.
So lets us begin:
So what I would like you to do is to think about some recent time, an actual experience you had where a close friend was really emotionally struggling. Maybe they have made a serious mistake at work and there are consequences, it is affecting them and those close to them. They are feeling bad about themselves. Or perhaps they are struggling with something that is personal for them.
Think about how you would typically treat your friends in this situation. Perhaps it helps to close your eyes for a moment and think about a situation that is recent and real for you.
You are a caring person, when supporting a friend:
What do you say?
What is your tone of voice?
What is your stance toward your friend?
In your own time, jot down your responses to each of the above questions.
Did you notice any patterns of difference between how you treat yourself and how you treat your friends in moments of struggle? Think about the questions below and write them down.
What are the differences?
How do you treat yourself?
What do you say to yourself?
What is your tone of voice?
What is your stance toward yourself?
Often we hear, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22: 37-39). But, in reality, how often do you care for you, as you would your neighbour?
However, there are always some people who say, ‘I am a little embarrassed to say this, but I am not always so great to my friends when things go wrong. When they suffer, fail or feel inadequate-what’s with that? Often when we look at who we tend to be toughest with in our lives, it is those whom we are closest. Perhaps part of the answer is that we need a little space in order for compassion to gurgle up, in order for us to be more patient in order that we can show goodwill and kindness.
If we are going to treat ourselves just as we would treat a good friend in need, we need to, in a sense, open up some space so you can see yourself in such a way that you can be kind to yourself first.
So if this sounds familiar, if you are not so kind to yourself, that is part of being human. Although, most people have developed some skills and are able to be warm and supportive to other people. So...treating ourselves as we would treat a good friend is an informal definition of self compassion.
As you gain more understanding of being self compassionate and wander, ‘oh what would it be like to be self compassionate to myself?’ Take a few moments and think about ‘how would I treat a friend right now?’ What would I say? What would be my tone? What would my posture be?
And then…Offer those same caring, considerate and genuine words and thoughts to you.
Reflecting on how you are capable of being toward others can remind you that you are also capable of being kind toward yourself-that you do deserve compassion too.
When you treat and care for yourself with the same kind of empathy, respect and understanding (that you know you do for others), and rather than metaphorically beating yourself up, you can bounce back from setbacks with greater resilience.
Being more compassionate to yourself and treating yourself as you would treat a friend is worth a try-don’t you think?
But how many of us are good at being compassionate to ourselves?
All beating ourselves up does is make us feel depressed, insecure and afraid to take on new challenges because we’re afraid of the self-punishment that will follow if we fail. It also makes it harder for us to see ourselves clearly because it’s too painful. We find comfort in thinking that it is better to blame my problems on someone else so that I can avoid my inner tyrant.
Neff (2012), in her postdoctoral research found that people who are compassionate toward themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, insecure and stressed and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, optimistic and motivated to change themselves and their lives for the better. They also tend to have better relationships with others. In short, self-compassionate people experience greater psychological well-being.
When our inner voice continually criticizes and berates us, we often end up in negative cycles of self-sabotage and self-harm. However, when our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend we can — when we notice some personal difficulty — feel safe and accepted enough to both see ourselves clearly and make the changes needed to be healthier and happier.
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be supportive and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of tearing ourselves to shreds when we make a mistake, we soothe and comfort ourselves, providing the caring concern needed to try again.
To get a sense of how this feels, try putting both arms straight out to the sides and clenching your fists hard.
This is what self-judgment feels like.
Then release your clenched fists and open your hands.
This is what letting go of self-judgment feels like.
Then take both hands and place them gently over your heart. This is what self-kindness feels like.
Paradoxically, the more you’re able to admit the pain of being a human being and accept this fact with kindness and equanimity, the more you’ll be able to heal your pain. By soothing and comforting yourself, just as a caring mother soothes and comforts her child when he or she is hurt, you will be able to rebound from setbacks more quickly. You will have the emotional resources needed to take on new challenges and reach your full potential. Beating yourself up doesn’t help anyone — least of all yourself.
Luckily, most are already quite skilled at being kind, understanding and compassionate to those we care about. To realize the benefits of self-compassion, therefore, all you need to do is turn around and apply those same skills toward yourself.
It’s easier than you think, and it could change your life.
Neff, K. D. (2012). The science of self-compassion. In C. K. Germer & R. D. Siegel (Eds.), Wisdom and compassion in psychotherapy: Deepening mindfulness in clinical practice (p. 79–92). The Guilford Press.
If you would like to know more and are seeking further support, please email Dr Rhonda Emonson PhD on [email protected] and you will be provided with further resources.
Stay connected with news and updates!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.
If you would like to know more and are seeking further support, please email Dr Rhonda Emonson PhD on
[email protected] and you will be provided with further resources.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.