Three Ways to Cultivate Self-Compassion | Part 2: Befriend Yourself

Iris Cai
Published in
5 min readMay 23, 2021

Imagine the last time you screwed up something and you felt ashamed of yourself.

Did you move on to fixing the situation, or accepting it shortly, or did the incident trigger a bout of self-loathing and deep regret?

Do you sometimes compare yourself to others and wish you had their smarts, their grit, their charm, or their guts? I have certainly been there and still experience occasional self-doubt when facing something too new and daunting to me.

What’s the antidote to that?

Cultivating self-compassion by developing a healthy and loving relationship with yourself can give you the psychological strength to buffer against self-doubt and self-criticism.

According to Kristin Neff, one of the leading experts on self-compassion, people who are compassionate towards themselves see their inadequacies as inevitable and part of their experience of being human. They accept their failings and imperfections with kindness and sympathy¹.

How to accept your inadequacies

Accepting your inadequacies does not mean not doing anything to overcome your weaknesses, or being in denial. It simply means not trying to be impeccable with everything, not letting your inadequacies beat yourself up and affect how you value yourself. We all have experiences where we screw up and feel bad about ourselves. When we accept our fallacies, we are better able to move on from wallowing in shame to focusing on understanding the root cause and how to prevent it from happening again.

A great way to help you accept your inadequacies is to befriend your “adequacies” by knowing the strengths in your character.

Befriending yourself

How much do you appreciate yourself for who you are? How much do you know about the strengths of your character?

We live in a society obsessed with excellence and “self-improvement” where we seem to live in the constant cycle of not being “good enough”. Most of us are well aware of our “gaps” but not our “goods”. You may often envy others’ smarts, grit, charm, or guts, but it could be possible that others admire your creativity, kindness, and patience?

If you are not familiar with what within you that is worth appreciating and amplifying, consider the following exercise:

  1. Take the free Character Strengths survey to reacquaint yourself with the beautiful qualities that make you lovable, respectable, and worthy. According to the VIA Institute on Character, people who understand and apply their strengths are more confident and live happier lives.
  2. Once you have received your survey result showing your top five Character Strengths, reflect on them. How have you used these strengths when times are good, and during times of stress? How do you feel about these strengths? If you don’t embrace some of these strengths, it is likely that you may have overused or underused that strength. For example, an overuse of “love of learning” could be engaging in too many learning opportunities but not patiently applying what you learn. Your growth lies in finding the optimal use of that strength. You can do so by managing your saboteurs (i.e. your inner judge; learn more about what saboteurs are and how they relate to self-compassion), or discussing this with trusted friends or a coach.
  3. Discussing your strengths with others can reinforce your awareness and continued application of your strengths. Share your results with five people in your life who appreciate you. Ask them to give you examples of why they think those results are true. For example, they can tell you stories of you using some of your strengths. This could be a rather awkward process especially if you are not used to it. If that’s the case, I invite you to resist the temptation to shrink and to hide out, and open up your heart to accept those compliments.
  4. One way to internalize those positive views of yourself is to come up with a list of new things you can do to reinforce those strengths. For example, if you’ve been applying your “love of learning” through reading at least 10 books a year, what about using this strength by teaching others? If you have been good at forgiving others, how about applying that strength of “forgiveness” towards yourself?

Finding your mirror in others

Now, if you react anything like I did, you may go through the first one or two steps of the exercise above and skip step 3. Engaging others to learn what’s good about yourself rather than getting constructive feedback can be rather embarrassing!

If that is your experience, please resist this temptation to learn about your strengths alone. We all have blind spots and our negativity bias can cause us to be rather dismissive of our strengths.

One effective way to help you overcome that and embrace the good in yourself is to find your mirror in others. Let them “reflect” the wonderful qualities they see in you. Hear stories of how your strengths may have impacted others. Ask clarifying questions such as “What possibilities do you see in me?” All of these can offer you enlightening perspectives that can deepen your relationship with not just yourself, but with others.

Leaning into your strengths

Lastly, remember that when you lean into the strengths of our character, you are most in your “element”. That’s when you access the “sage” within you and when the power of your saboteurs starts to diminish.

For example, I have long been honouring my strength of “fairness” by supporting various causes dedicated to the underprivileged. One day, I witnessed an unkind comment being made by a student in class and decided to call this person out. I found this incident incredibly self-affirming not only because I got to uphold fairness in a much more direct way, but also because by leaning into what is so important to me, I overcame my fear of being confrontational.

Our relationship with ourselves forms the most important foundation for everything important and meaningful we want in our lives. Being compassionate with ourselves can give us permission to pursue things aligned with who we really are, to bounce back from setbacks, and to build enduring relationships with others.

What would it take to see yourself and value yourself more?

The future is not out there in front of us, but inside us.

— Joanna Macy

Get in touch

Please reach out to me if you’d like to support on cultivating self-compassion or have questions or comments on the topic.

Related posts on how to cultivate self-compassion:


  1. Self-compassion. (n.d.). The three elements of self-compassion.
  2. Cover photo by Sarah Wolfe on Unsplash

Originally published at on May 23, 2021.



Iris Cai

Changemaker, storyteller, & positive psychology nerd, I write about innovative and research-backed ways to help people live more fulfilling and balanced lives.