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  • Susanna Kaufman

How To Be Kind To Your Self

Updated: Jun 10

A hand holding a sign saying 'Love Yourself' in front of a pink background.

This is for the stressed-out folks out there trying to be kind to others. This is for the caregivers, the parents, and the helpers. The family members nominated (consciously or unconsciously) to 'hold the family together,' and those who just plain feel overwhelmed. In my therapy practice, it is common for folks to have a difficult time committing to showing themselves compassion and care, especially if they are in a caregiving position. As I'm writing this, I'm purposefully choosing not to use the words 'self-care' - and I think that means something. 'Self-care' has become an 'ugh' phrase - a sigh, easily dismissed. And for a good reason - it's seriously hard to intentionally carve out space and time to care for ourselves. Clients sometimes say "I really want to be kind to myself, to show myself compassion, but what does that look like? How?"

Here are a few tips and reminders on treating yourself with kindness.

Tip #1 - Know your energy limits

Avoid over-scheduling and create breaks throughout your days or weeks in realistic ways. Ask for help from your support system. Make a plan that has space. See work environments that honor your needs. Create home environments that feel safe. This shows your nervous system that you care about it and you want it to succeed in regulating your day-to-day moments (as well as your life). 

This is especially important if you are extending energy regularly in caring for others, are an introvert, or experience sensitivity in sensory input.

If you're asking yourself "How do I know my energy limits?" one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with your nervous system and its reactions is to check in consistently to how you are feeling in the moment. The polyvagal chart is a helpful tool here. Polyvagal theory outlines that we are constantly scanning our environments for safety or danger (neuroception) both consciously and unconsciously. As a result, our nervous system reacts to this evaluation with a sense of being in one of three states: ventral vagal (connection and curiosity), sympathetic (fight or flight), or dorsal (overwhelmed, numb, shut down). This gives us information to work with. Checking in to see which of these states we are currently in can help us better understand how to respond for our nervous systems in the moment. For example, if we feel overwhelmed, we can listen to that overwhelm, understand its context, and find a way to honor it, rather than ignoring it or pushing through it.

Tip #2 - Honor your energy limits by communicating

Yes. This is an underscore of Tip #1. It's that important. Your nervous system has a capacity. That capacity might change from day to day and minute to minute. Once you know your energy limits, honor them, flex with them, and communicate for them.

Communicate your feelings and needs. Find people who will respect your need to flex, and will flex with you. Know when to reach out for support and use your voice when needed - maybe it's sharing you've reached a limit and need help. Or maybe you need to voice frustration or betrayal. Speak FOR not FROM these feelings. Conflict (not to be confused with violence) in any relationship is normal. Conflict and relational messiness can lead to repair and relational growth when both parties' feelings and needs are communicated and truly heard (Tronick & Gold, 2020).

Yes, this takes courage and vulnerability. Honor the capacity you have, accept it, and speak for it.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” –Brene Brown

Tip #3 - Create achievable daily habits

Implement daily habits that routinely calm your nervous system. Neurons that fire together wire together. Nervous systems that practice calm have more success regulating when needed. Some examples:

  • Yoga or meditation during the time of day when you feel most stressed (some people feel this in the morning, some in the evening)

  • 2-5 min 'time-outs' to be alone

  • Slow deep breaths, focusing on the exhale

  • Savoring the glimmers, the moments of connection and joy

  • Walk around the block, yard, or park and appreciate nature, animals, plants, and the world outside

  • Take a voo breath

Tip #4 - Forgive yourself

If you just can't do your daily habit today, get back on the train tomorrow. As author don Miguel Ruiz shares in "The Four Agreements;" do your best, and know this will look different each day.

" Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next." – don Miguel Ruiz

Tip #5 - 'Tune In' when needed

When you hit capacity and uncomfortable feelings arise, check in with them. Journal about the feelings and needs that are showing up in the present moment. Allow them to exist and let them know you truly care by listening to the pain or frustration they are expressing. You are human and humans have emotions. Ride the wave. Trust it will end.

Psychologist Tara Brach has a great RAIN acronym and meditation for this:

  • Recognize what is going on

  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is

  • Investigate with interest and care

  • Nurture with self-compassion

Reach out to a trusted person or therapist to process feelings and needs. Having our wounds witnessed by another compassionate person is healing. Having unhealthy patterns challenged and being reminded of our humanity is healing.

Tip #6 - 'Move On/Let Go' when needed

This is a balance to tuning in. Because both are needed, but we get to decide when to choose tuning in or moving on. Sometimes instead of tuning in, we need to 'let it go.' Setting it down can be helpful for an overactive mind. Psychotherapist Phil Stutz describes three Aspects of Reality: "Life will always have pain, uncertainty, and constant work." This is part of being human. When we realize everyone experiences these basics, it can provide perspective. This might look like letting your feelings know "I'll tune in to you later, I'm going to set you down to tend to this next thing now."

It is hard to be kind to ourselves when life takes over. But it is important. It's a beautiful part of being human to get to know our nervous system and our feelings, our "felt-sense" of ourselves.


Ruiz, M. (1997). The four agreements. San Rafael, CA: Hay House

Ten Percent Happier. (2024). How to regulate your nervous system for stress, anxiety, and trauma with Peter Levine. Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris.

Tronick, E., & Gold, C. M. (2020). The power of discord. London, UK: Scribe

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