Mindful Self-Compassion and Forgiveness

Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer offer a written version of a multi-week long workshop series in The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. The book offers an explanation, examples, and very practical exercises and tools for mindful self-compassion. Here is an overview and deeper exploration of forgiveness for self and others from a mindful self-compassion perspective.

Mindful Self-Compassion

Mindful Self-Compassion has three elements; mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity.

Illustration of three overlapping circles labelled, "Self-kindness, Common Humanity, & Mindfulness"
From Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, p. 10

Mindfulness begins with exploring what is really happening right here in this moment, free of judgment or expectations. What are you experiencing? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Common humanity includes recognizing that you are not the first person to have these kinds of experiences, that you are not alone, and that this is a part of the experience of being human. Self-kindness includes being graceful with yourself, both in terms of your self-talk and your actions. You might offer kind words to yourself, make yourself a cup of warm tea, soothingly rub your chest, or nudge yourself to take the action that has been holding you back.

Mindful self-compassion is often misunderstood as passive or lazy when in reality mindful self-compassion can include giving ourselves and break and moving us toward what really matters. It helps us engage with the reality we experience so that we can more fully experience our lives.


One of the best gifts I have been given was the reminder that forgiveness is actually selfish (in a good way). We don’t forgive others because they deserve it, we forgive them because we do. Forgiveness can release us from a grudge or conflict – often a conflict the other person isn’t even aware of or affected by. Forgiveness can help us acknowledge and let go of the past so that it doesn’t dictate our present. It can be as healing as it can be hard. As Anne Lamott wrote, “In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

I often share with folks the four step process to forgiveness from The Book of Joy.

  1. Tell your story.
  2. Name the hurt.
  3. Grant forgiveness.
  4. Renew or release the relationship.

I love the last step of renewing or releasing the relationship because it gives us permission to forgive and not renew the relationship. It also pushes us to either renew and release the relationship. I often see folks who have “forgiven” someone but kept them on probation, which isn’t actual forgiveness.

Forgiveness + Mindful Self-Compassion

The Mindful Self-Compassion approach to forgiveness, for self and others, is five step process

  1. Opening to the Pain – mindfully being present with what happened without narrating the story to our favor and being present with the the emotions and how they show up in our body.
  2. Self-compassion – compassion for the distress and feelings and experiences without attention to who is at fault.
  3. Wisdom – recognizing that there are many factors at play, this is not entirely personal, it may be about the other person, past experiences, other factors, and the many interconnectations we are mostly unaware of – even when the person we are trying to fogive is ourselves.
  4. Intention to forgive – forgiving. Easy to say, hard to do. What do you need to do to get to a point, where you can actually forgive? You can’t say you forgive and then hang-on to the grudge. That is not fair to you or the other person.
  5. Responsibility to Protect – do better, change your behavior, renew or release the relationship.
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