Cultivating your Ability through your Vulnerability: The Yin and Yang of Mindfulness Self-Compassion

Do you ever wonder how you can cultivate what you feel like a weakness and vulnerability in you into courage and ability? Brene Brown points out how we all admire the courage and daring in others, but when it comes to ourselves, we may be paralyzed by shame, fear, or other self-judgments passed on to us from cultural expectations. If you have that inkling of wondering about how you can cultivate your vulnerability into ability, then you are courageously ready to take the next step of transforming your heart. 

Are you still with me, or did you move on to the next article because you feel uncomfortable or afraid reading these words? Sit with these feelings, feel them in your body. What are they about anyway? What message do they have for you?

Did I say you’re transforming your heart? Yes, I did, because this kind of vulnerability work takes courage and bravery, which come from the heart. While the mind is excellent at analyzing and planning how to do things, it is not equipped to step into the unknown and uncharted territories. The latter is the territory of the heart. The mind likes to navigate the surface of life that it can grasp, measure, compare and map out, while the heart holds the compass of what is important to us and showing us the way to what is primarily important to us, from relationships, hopes, dreams, values and much more. The heart can be the crucible holding the fires of transformation, burning needless fluff that gets in the way. Simultaneously, the essential precious, valuable gifts of your life emerge, having survived the purification in the crucible of trials. 

Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer developed Mindfulness-Self Compassion (MSC) practices that teach you to transform your vulnerability into amazing abilities. They refer to it as the Yin and Yang of Mindfulness Self-Compassion. MSC helps you cultivate new relationships with yourself and your experiences in your life. 

PART 1: There are three elements of Mindfulness Self-Compassion (MSC): 

  1. Self-Kindness: You are likely kind and considerate towards your friends and family when they are suffering or struggling or feeling inadequate. You probably ask them what they need and consider what you can do to help them. Interestingly, most people do not apply that kindness towards others to themselves. Take a moment and reflect on how you approached yourself lately during a difficult or challenging time. Did you judge yourself? Were you self-critical? If you answered yes, welcome to the rest of humanity! You are not alone in treating yourself like this. Self-kindness encourages you to end self-criticism and open your heart to yourself, responding to your suffering as you would respond to a dear friend in need. And as you accept yourself without judgment, you may also soothe, comfort, and care for yourself. With self-kindness, you learn to self-nurture, offering support and encouragement to yourself the way you would to a friend. 
  2. Common Humanity: If you answered yes to having self-judgment towards yourself in the previous paragraph, you are not alone because most of us do it to ourselves. Sit with that for a second and repeat to yourself, “I am not alone.” How did that feel in your body? One of the challenges with self-judgment is that it makes you feel isolated and cut off from others. Self-judgement inherently brings with it self-separation from others. As though your problem or difficulty is yours alone, and you are the only one dealing with it, and nobody else has dealt with it. The more isolated you feel, the more you judge yourself, which causes you to feel more isolated. Do you see how the vicious cycle goes? Self-compassion is embedded in the sense of interconnection and a common humanity: the pain you feel in a difficult time is like the pain your friend feels in difficult times. With self-compassion, every moment of difficulty, of vulnerability, that you feel is a moment that you can feel closer and more connected to others.  
  3. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is an awareness and a practice of paying attention to the moment, without judgment and in the present moment. It neither exaggerates, avoids, or resists the current present experience. In this sensory awareness of your experience, you become aware of your feelings and thoughts and can be with them as they simply are, without judgment or emotional charge. 

You may be wondering what putting the three above ingredients (Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) together might resemble? The acceptance of what is that mindfulness brings helps lessen self-judgment, which helps to recognize our common humanity. Self-kindness reduces the impact of negative emotions, which makes it easier to be mindful of them. Do you see how this healthy cycle helps you cultivate your vulnerability into an amazing ability to brave through life?

Now that you have learned about the three ingredients of Mindfulness Self-Compassion, how can you apply them to transforming your vulnerability and living from your courageous heart?

Part 2: The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion:

Self-Compassion has two seemingly opposite sides that are essentially complementary to each other and interdependent. This is like the Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese philosophy. One side cannot exist without the other, and each is called upon at different times. The yin of self-compassion involves being with yourself in a compassionate way. The yang of self-compassion is about how you act in the world. 


  1. Comforting: This is something you likely do for a dear friend who is struggling. And just as you provide that to your friend, you can direct that to yourself by providing support to your emotional needs. 
  2. Soothing: You may provide this to your friend by getting them a hot cup of tea. When you bring soothing to yourself, you provide comfort to yourself, and as a result, feel physically calmer. You may place your hand on your heart or go out for a walk. 
  3. Validating: This involves understanding your experience exactly as it is, no more and no less, and talking to yourself in a kind and gentle manner. 


  1. Protecting: This involves you feeling safe, setting boundaries, and saying no to others who are hurting you. 
  2. Providing: This involves first knowing what you need, saying yes to it, and then trying your best to meet your need to the best of your ability. 
  3. Motivating: You, like all of us, likely have behavior patterns that you would like to change as they don’t serve you and don’t align with your values. You, like all of us, likely have hopes and aspirations that you want to pursue. Yang self-compassion motivates and supports you the way a coach or a mentor does, without hard criticism. (PS: if your mentor or coach brings hard criticism, it is time to find a different coach! That is part of setting boundaries and providing for your needs!). 

Writing this article was not easy because it took courage and facing my vulnerability, reflecting on my journey in my mindfulness self-compassion. If you have read through this article till the end, congratulations, my friend! You kept yourself motivated, knowing your needs and meeting them while comforting, soothing, and validating your experiences. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and one breath. Welcome to your own journey towards your mindfulness self-compassion, joining the rest of us on this path! Check out Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer on Mindfulness Self-Compassion. 

See you on the other side of MSC!

You can submit your “Question to the Doc” by emailing Please put “Question to the Doc” in the subject line.

Dr. Abu Ata is a board-certified psychiatrist and family medicine physician. She is in private practice and can be found at or reached at Dr. Abu Ata believes in providing holistic care that includes the mind, body, and spirit in the context of personal growth, relationships with others, and in the community. Dr. Abu Ata is here to support you by providing a mindfully cultivated practice of presence and expertise. Her healing practice draws on her mindfulness, yoga, family medicine, and integrative psychiatry training to weave a unique tapestry that supports your needs on your YOU-nique journey.

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