Khazan: So what is self-compassion?
Neff: It means treating yourself with the same kind of kindness, care and compassion as you would treat those you care about—your good friends, your loved ones. One component is self-kindness, which is in a way the most obvious. But it also entails a recognition of common humanity—in other words, the understanding that all people are imperfect, and all people have imperfect lives. Sometimes, when we fail, we react as if something has gone wrong—that this shouldn’t be happening. “I shouldn’t have failed, I shouldn’t have had this issue come up in my life.” And this sense that “this shouldn’t be happening,” as if everyone else in the world were living perfectly happy, unproblematic lives. That type of thinking really causes a lot of additional suffering, because people feel isolated and separated from the rest of humanity.
So, when we have self-compassion, when we fail, it’s not “poor me,” it’s “well, everyone fails.” Everyone struggles. This is what it means to be human. And that really radically alters how we relate to failure and difficulty. When we say, “Oh, this is normal, this is part of what it means to human,” that opens the door to the grow from the experience. If we feel like it’s abnormal, this shouldn’t be happening, then we start blaming ourselves.