Take II on Transitions: Using Mindful Self-Compassion Inside Out

Having just seen Pixar’s new animated  movie, “Inside Out” with my kids, I was reminded of my last blog post on transitions—and how, though I brought up using strengths, gratitude and mindfulness through transitions, I did not give as much screen time to mindful self-compassion. Perhaps this is because mindful self-compassion has become second nature to me— as I now use it on a daily basis. Another reason why I may not have devoted much time to it is paradoxical: though I use mindful self-compassion daily, many people still do not know about it and/or find it difficult to offer it to themselves. Although in the movie the main character, Riley, did not use mindful self-compassion per se, we do see how compassion and empathy in general can assist someone in moving forward to make things better. In the movie, which is all about a child’s transition in moving homes, we see how important it is to recognize and acknowledge one’s feelings, whatever they may be—especially sadness or some other negative emotions, to move forward. Those negative feelings and emotions do have a role in life, particularly in transitions.

Applying the concept of mindful self-compassion through transitions allows us to accept what is happening right now, especially the difficult times or when we are not meeting up to our own standards, and offer ourselves what we need through kindness, mindfulness and the concept of common humanity.  The kindness we offer ourselves in a transition can come through many channels: kind words (e.g. I am here for you sweetie), kind tone (like that of a compassionate friend), and a soothing touch— like placing your hand over your heart– facilitates the flow of oxytocin (the feel good hormone).   As we offer ourselves kindness, we can also apply mindfulness: acknowledging the feelings/emotions (labeling it i.e., “this is difficult/this hurts”), and being with those feelings without judgment (holding it in awareness without blaming or criticizing oneself).  Additionally, by noticing where the sensations are felt in the body (headache, heart ache, neck or shoulder ache, etc…), we can start to separate the emotional feeling from any physical pain we may be experiencing.  With mindfulness we realize that feelings/emotions and thoughts are fleeting and dissipate quickly, which lessens their intensity.  Mindfulness also helps us stop over-identifying with our story (“I just can’t keep a job or a relationship!”) or ruminating with our thoughts (“what if I never find a perfect job or partner?”), and brings us back to the present moment.

In applying kindness, we begin to soothe ourselves and act from a place of openness and love, rather than from fear, guilt or shame.  In applying mindfulness, we become calmer, and end up in a much better position to act in a healthier way.  Mindful self-compassion incorporates these two ideas and a third component: common humanity.  This component illustrates how we are not alone in our discomfort, suffering, and transition.  Other people suffer as well, because that is the nature of the human experience.  Transitions do bring change. Change can be perceived as stress and our thoughts on the change can elicit an emotion in us, making us feel bad and sad. And when we feel bad or sad, we tend to draw inward and isolate ourselves which starts us on a downward spiral.  This concept of common humanity speaks to the isolation by encouraging us to see those around us in the same boat, and reach out to accept help.  Common humanity reminds us that we are all interconnected… not one of us is alone in our suffering or transitions. Everyone goes through transitions as they are a part of the life cycle.

Using Mindful Self-Compassion through transitions allows us to shift our perspective—accepting and coping with the feelings we experience as the old door closes.  Mindful self-compassion enables us to look at that new door with a different mindset; one that is soothed, present and connected or supported. A mindset that is healthy, open and curious as to what may lie ahead.

I finish this post with a favorite poem that illustrates the role of human feelings/emotions and mindful self-compassion eloquently, as written by Rumi back in the 1500’s:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness

comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi, Translation by Coleman Barks


Self-Compassion.org—Researcher and major proponent, Kristin Neff’s, website with information and great tools.

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion—Founded by Chris Germer, Kristin Neff, Steve Hickman and more….

Tara Brach’s  website– Author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and a lot more

Rick Hanson’s website– Mindfulness & self-compassion

Mindful.org– Online and in print magazine

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