Self-Comforting Behavior: Supporting Yourself In Difficult Times

Giving comfort and support to yourself is as (or more) important than giving it to others. However, you're probably more used to criticizing yourself for your mistakes than being self- compassionate.
Self-Comforting Behavior: Supporting Yourself In Difficult Times

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Do you treat yourself well? Do you give yourself comfort in the same way that you offer it to others? In reality, many of us fail in these areas. Furthermore, according to science, not having a solvent and effective learning in self-comforting behaviors increases the risk of anxiety disorders or depression.

As a rule, people tend more toward self-criticism than self-compassion. We do it because our upbringing and the rigid canons of our society urge us toward self-perfection and infallibility. We strive not to make mistakes, to be highly effective and competitive, and to be the best workers, the best partners, the best fathers, mothers, and friends.

Indeed, we set the bar so high that we leave no room for vulnerability, error, burnout, or failure. It’s not easy to console ourselves when we look at ourselves with guilt and not with affection. It isn’t easy when our culture has educated us in the need to be hard on ourselves to achieve the impossible – perfection.

Comfort implies leaving ourselves space to feel human and get in touch with our emotions.

Mind with a man inside symbolizing the effect of self-comfort techniques
We often neglect ourselves so much that we fail to give ourselves the support we need on life’s journey.

Five types of self-comforting behavior

Self-comforting behaviors are psychological strategies aimed at offering calm, emotional relief, and hope. It involves working with yourself to find the same well-being that you encounter when you get a hug or a few words of support from someone you love. These emotional caresses are natural, necessary, and beneficial.

When you go through a bad time, you can usually count on those in your close environment. That said, you can’t rely exclusively on them. Not all the support you receive has to come from your social circle. You must also enable yourself to give yourself comfort, support, consolation, and emotional validation.

Here are some self-comforting behaviors for you to try.

1. Accept your uncomfortable emotions

The Comillas Pontifical University of Madrid (Spain) conducted a study that claimed emotion-focused therapy appears to provide valuable resources for patients to develop self-comforting skills. Nevertheless, people often have difficulties in accepting the most uncomfortable and problematic internal realities.

In fact, you probably often try and avoid sadness, frustration, or anger due to disappointment, failure, or even anguish. It’s easier to go on autopilot and act as if these emotions don’t exist.

Therefore, one of the most basic self-comforting behaviors is to make room for what hurts and to validate each emotion, including those with negative valence. You should never tell yourself “This is nothing, I’m just being silly feeling this way” or “I’m so cross with myself for feeling like this”. You must accept the way you feel.

Bear in mind that these painful feelings are usually temporary. They’ll gradually weaken as long as you don’t avoid, deny, or resist them.

2. Self-compassion, kindness to yourself

Psychologist, Kristin Neff is known for scientifically contributing a core concept to psychology: self-compassion. Being compassionate with yourself means you stop judging yourself for your shortcomings and mistakes, you accept yourself unconditionally, and you’re kind to yourself.

However, what mechanisms or strategies can you employ to develop such self-compassion? Here are some simple examples:

  • Offer yourself quality time to rest or do whatever gives you peace or satisfaction.
  • Don’t label what you feel as good or bad. Don’t judge yourself by what’s inside you. Just embrace the person you are in the here and now, including your emotions.
  • Practice relaxation techniques to relieve your tension and better connect with yourself in a calm and peaceful manner.

3. Develop less self-criticism and more empathy with yourself

Another self-comforting behavior you can develop involves turning off your inner critic. We all have judges inside us, who can be really ruthless by not forgiving us for any mistakes, punishing us for feeling vulnerable, labeling us as weak, and belittling us for not being effective and decisive.

To counteract self-criticism, you need to be more empathic with yourself. Godfrey T. Barrett-Lennard, professor of psychology at Murdoch University (Australia) conducted a study on this topic. He claimed that it’s essential that, in psychotherapy, the patient be trained in this basic competence.

Self-empathy allows you to connect with the part of you who’s suffering, who feels afraid and sad, and who needs comfort. If you’re one of those people who finds it easy to empathize with your friends or family, ask yourself why you don’t do the same with yourself.

It can be difficult to stop being so severe and demanding with yourself. You need to train yourself to use a more kind and empathetic internal dialogue.

4. Refuges where you can let off steam and clear your head

Giving others comfort involves creating a safe space where they can cry and express what they need. It means providing them with resources and strategies so they can put aside their affliction and open themselves up to life again. This is also what you must do with yourself.

A useful self-comforting behavior involves finding channels that allow you to vent your emotions. It might be writing or listening to music. Indeed, we all have our own cathartic refuges in which we can let out what’s inside of us.

You could also try activities that relax you and distract your mind like walking, taking a trip alone, etc.

Boy from the back with a blanket applying self-comfort techniques
No suffering goes on forever. It’s resistance or denial that makes it last.

5. Accept that your pain is only temporary

This is another useful self-comforting behavior. Remember that no winter is eternal and that your pain won’t last forever. It’s when you deny your suffering that it lasts longer than expected, and only when you repress the wound or neglect yourself that your anguish becomes chronic.

Accept the potholes of fate, along with your failures, and losses. Give yourself comfort just as you’d give it to your best friend. Accept what comes to you from your surroundings, but never, under any circumstances, turn your back on yourself. Always be your own best friend.

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Most people find it easier to show kindness to others than toward themselves. But self-compassion is just as important for a full and happy life.



  • Barrett-Lennard, G. (1997). The recovery of empathy: Toward others and self. In Bohart, A. & Greenberg, L. , Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (pp. 103–121). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press. doi:10.1037/10226-004
  • Caro, Ciro, & Hornillos, Teresa. (2015). La Tarea de Auto-consuelo Compasivo en Terapia Focalizada en la Emoción. Acción Psicológica12(2), 73-94. https://dx.doi.org/10.5944/ap.12.2.15808
  • Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation (pp. 121-137). Springer, New York, NY.
    Sherman, N. (2014) Recovering lost goodness: Shame, guilt, and self-empathy. Psychoanalytic Psychology 31: 217–235.
  • Neff, Kristin (2008) Sé amable contigo mismo. Paidós