How to Move Through Grief with Kindness and Self-Compassion

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How to Move Through Grief with Kindness and Self-Compassion

/ Post by Codi Lindsey

By Jamie Glidewell, LICSW, LCSW-C, LCSW, APHSW-C

“It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens” ~Pema Chodron

We will all weather the different storms that grief brings to us across our lifetime.  Grief is certain and inevitable and it can be an intense, emotional, scary and difficult experience and it can bring a multitude of emotions and a host of physiological symptoms and side effects as well.

To complicate our personal and unique experiences of grief, we live in a society that is generally dismissive of the grief experience which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

if there was ever a time to be kind to ourselves, it would be during the different seasons of our grief.

However, it is not uncommon that we become highly self-critical and particularly unforgiving to ourselves while we are grieving.

Common critical thoughts or sentiments that come up are worries that we are grieving incorrectly, that our grief is taking too long, that something is wrong with us, that we handled things poorly with our loved one, dwelling on what could have been different, thinking about the things we should or shouldn’t have done, the list goes on. Some complicated feelings that can accompany our grief are feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, and regret; any combination of these emotions can exacerbate grief and also impact anxiety, sadness and depression.

Softening the hard edges of grief

There is not an antidote for grief but there is an approach that can soften the hard edges of our grief. This approach entails meeting yourself with kindness and self-compassion.  The goal is not to push aside, dismiss or ignore your feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame or regret.

More so, it is to treat yourself and talk to yourself in the same way that you would a trusted friend.  It is showing up for yourself amidst your pain and allowing yourself to hold two things at the same time. For example, it is acknowledging that you may feel guilty for the way you spoke to your loved one before they died, while also holding the truth that you are human and were doing the best you could at the time.

What exactly is self-compassion?

Does this sound too vague or ambiguous at first glance?  It may help to pause here and take a deeper dive into understanding what exactly is self-compassion.  Dr. Kristin Neff has spent her life’s work researching self-compassion and creating a base of knowledge that supports the understanding that self-compassion can increase motivation, happiness, self-worth, can foster resilience, and reduce psychological distress (Neff & Germer, 2018).  There are three components to self-compassion, and they include self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff & Germer, 2018):

  1. Self-compassion relates to being able to sit with the discomfort of our pain and suffering without resorting to self-judgement, criticism, blame; it relates to being able to meet these difficult and dark moments with our eyes and hearts open and with a tone of sympathy and kindness; talking to ourselves the way we would a friend or loved one. 

  2. Common Humanity relates to understanding and embracing the idea that we are imperfectly human and that part of this human experience involves the inevitability of pain and suffering. Common humanity reconnects us to each other during these difficult times instead of falling into the trap of withdrawal and isolation.

  3. Mindfulness involves cultivating and maintaining an awareness of how we are doing and what we need in this moment and the next. It involves recognizing the feeling and sitting with it, essentially riding the waves of emotions as they come. This encourages a more balanced approach that doesn’t dismiss what we are feeling and also doesn’t exaggerate it.

How to put self-compassion into action with grief

Given that self-compassion involves kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, the question becomes how to best apply it to your experience of grief. Below are some helpful ways to meet grief with compassion

  • meet your grief with kindness. 

    • Be curious about what you are feeling and look out for the roadblocks of guilt, blame, shame and try to recognize the ways these emotions are impacting your overall experience with grief.  Realize there is room for forgiveness, even self-forgiveness in grief.

  • remember that suffering and grief are both an important and inevitable part of being human.

    • Remember that you are not alone in these painful moments.  Community can be a helpful way to process your grief and support groups (in-person, virtual, online, or through social media platforms) can bring deep meaning, connection and a felt sense of being understood. You will learn, and grow and change around your grief and even if you can’t feel this right now, trust your fellow humans who are right here beside you.

  • be present in your grief.

    • Ride the waves of grief as they come and trust that by sitting with the pain and difficult emotions it will allow the room you need to survive what sometimes feels intolerable and insurmountable.  By being mindful of your emotions you can also be attentive and caring to yourself, this circles right back to self-compassion and offers the opportunity to be gentle, sympathetic and kind to yourself as you grieve.

This approach encourages clarity and perspective that informs a gentler approach through your grief and actually increases the resiliency to feel the intensity of the emotions such as sadness and longing without them being overshadowed or squashed by the shame or guilt. Spending less time beating yourself up gives you more space and energy to grieve and take care of yourself while grieving. 

Expressions of self-compassion

Sometimes people ask how exactly they can express self-compassion to themselves; in other words, how they can practice self-compassion each day. Some specific expressions of self-compassion include the following:

  • Trusting yourself

  • Giving yourself permission to grieve fully and deeply

  • Slowing down

  • Remembering to breathe

  • Allowing yourself to rest

  • Giving yourself grace when you struggle with focus, motivation, attention (or anything else, as things that were easy before the loss may be wildly difficult or unavailable to you right now)

  • Finding a creative outlet

  • Letting people know what you need from them

  • Practicing self-forgiveness

  • Being kind to yourself! Watch out for the self-criticism. Rather than beating yourself up about things, instead simply notice self-critical thoughts and release them when they come back around (as they naturally will). 

  • Physical acts of self-compassion: placing a hand on your heart and feeling the warmth and pressure of your hand, giving yourself a hug, squeezing your hands together.

Above all, be patient with your grief and be patient with the journey towards self-compassion.  They both take time and self-compassion takes practice.

References: Neff, K., & Germer, C. K. (2018).The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. Guilford Press.


For more information about Jamie Glidewell or the Hope+Wellness practice, visit:

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