Acute grief is one of life’s most painful experiences and in our culture we don’t want it to linger. We often urge ourselves to “get over it”. Bereaved people often think other people feel they should “get over it or move on” or other people really tell them to do this. These reactions can undermine the natural healing process and the integration of grief. This can lead to complicated grief. Self-compassion is a way of being kind to oneself and accepting the reality that suffering is part of what makes us human. Self-compassion connects us with others rather than setting us apart. Through this connection we can accept pain without pitying ourselves for having it. Practicing self-compassion after a loss means treating yourself kindly, remembering that suffering is universal and keeping some perspective on your emotions.
Self-compassion has three parts. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness-that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.
The ability to exercise self-compassion is especially important when we are grieving because feelings can be very intense and insistent. Self-compassion facilitates successful mourning. It allows us to see that grief is a form of love and reminds us to do what we can to both accept and ease the pain. Self-compassion after a loss means remembering that we all experience loss and we all grieve, even if each person experiences grief in her or his own unique way. We all suffer when we lose a loved one. Additionally, self-compassion helps us be mindful of the natural oscillation between confronting and accepting the pain and setting it aside. We accept our yearning, sadness and urgent thoughts of the person who died and we also accept and appreciate the times that we find respite from the pain. People with complicated grief almost always have difficulty with self-compassion.
Here are some online resources to help you with your practice of self-compassion: