Self-Compassion and Working with Difficult Emotions

STANCE - Working with Difficult Emotions

STANCE – Working with Difficult Emotions

Applying Compassion to Ourselves and Our Emotions


Through the regular practice of compassion, we may find ourselves readily opening our hearts to our own and others’ suffering.  Along with reinforcing a deep sense of purpose and meaning, self-compassion provides a healthy foundation or “stance” for working with difficult emotions. If we consider our internal posture when relating to difficult emotions, do we metaphorically have our arms folded tightly against the chest, fists clenched, and brow furrowed, or do we meet our difficult emotions with open arms, ready to engage in an unguarded discourse?  To nurture a compassionate stance while working with difficult emotions, we can remain mindfully aware of the acronym, STANCE: Stay Tender And Nurture Compassionate Experience.

Establishing a STANCE while working with difficult emotions may sound too soft. However, research on learning theory suggests that a positive growth-oriented mindset improves our ability to learn versus approaching ourselves with an attitude of blame, resentment, or hopelessness. Stanford researcher Carol Dweck has decades of research supporting the power of the growth mindset.  At first, it may require deliberate effort to remember STANCE while in the heat of an emotion, however with practice, it can become reflexive. This is true for all the strategies we will continue to develop in working with difficult emotions. 

The process of cultivating emotional balance asks us to examine some murky and, at times, difficult material.  For example, as we investigate deeper, we may re-discover patterns that trace to early childhood, limiting beliefs about ourselves, and sticky patterns of under or over-reactivity. How we approach this information is as important as what we learn. If we apply ourselves to the study of our emotions with relentless discipline and intensity, we will burn ourselves out. Alternatively, if we apply ourselves with self-compassion, we will actualize the goal we so eagerly seek: a peaceful, pliant mind, heart, and body. 

Compassion allows us to examine our destructive emotions with great tenderness, and at times it can support us in appreciating these emotions as an opportunity for growth.  Many of our destructive patterns may have helped keep us safe when our view of the world was not well informed and we didn’t have any other tools. 

Learn More about Cultivating Emotional Balance

Developed by Dr.’s Paul and Eve Ekman in collaboration with other emotions scholars and Buddhist monks, Cultivating Emotional Balance is a holistic training focused on finding balance, happiness and compassion in our lives.


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