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Interview with author Nate Terrell, LCSW

There are plenty of articles about how to make a relationship work and more than enough on how to be a great partner for somebody else – but what about developing a healthy relationship with yourself?

The happiest couples are the ones that contain two happy people. Perhaps this is why all of the time spent on making our significant other happy is one of the main reasons why many relationships don’t work. At the end of the day, no one can truly make anyone else happy if they themselves are miserable or lack the self-compassion needed to not judge every mistake as fatal. It is just as important to see ourselves in the same rose-colored glasses as we see our partner.

This is where Nate Terrell can help. Since writings on this topic tend to be in shorter supply, we decided to tap our friend to ask him a few questions on the subject. With a book on self-compassion and over 30 years of experience working with other people’s issues (both as a social worker and through his private practice), we figured he’d have a great perspective to share and deep insights to provide. Sit back, learn a little somethin’ and apply it. Your relationship will thank you for it!

1) Why did you decide to focus your book on self-compassion?

I was compelled to write my book on self-compassion because I have experienced and witnessed the healing and transformative power of self-compassion in the lives of my clients and my own quest to be self-compassionate. I am now eager to pass on what I have learned to others to help them experience greater happiness and serenity.

2) In your experience as a social worker and having a private practice, what are the most common issues you come across and how do you help clients overcome these issues?

The most common issue my clients face is that they do not believe they are worthy because of the bad treatment they received from their parents or caretakers, their inability to live up to their own expectations or the expectations that others have for them and the previous mistakes they have made.

I help them overcome this issue by encouraging them to “try on” the belief that they are inherently worthy, regardless of the treatment they have received, their success in life, etc. Although they do not generally come into the next session bursting with self-love, they almost always report that they have experienced at least some relief from their unhappiness, depression, anxiety, etc.

Most of my clients also have great difficulty getting “out of their heads” and into the moment. They believe that they can think their way out of their depression and anxiety, but their rumination just exacerbates their emotional suffering. My clients are often afraid to stop overthinking everything and enter their “authentic selves” (that being, who we are at the most basic level) because they believe they always need to be hyper-vigilant to prevent bad things from happening to them, particularly if they have experienced trauma. I assure them that they can stay in their “authentic selves” all the time and still protect themselves and live effective lives.

3) What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned in your lifetime?

Growing up in a Quaker family, I was taught that the most important thing in life was to serve others. Not surprisingly, I became a social worker which has brought great meaning into my life. However, I was always much better at meeting the needs of others than I was at meeting my own.

During a period of my life when I was feeling “burned out,” I decided to focus my energies on taking better care of myself. I was excited to discover that this did not make me selfish or self-centered, but filled me with an abundance of happiness and inner peace that I could pass on to others.

Therefore, the most important thing I have learned is that I do not have to choose between being compassionate to myself and compassionate to others. I can do both at the same time and enjoy the fruits that both have to offer.

I have also learned that I do not need to “give” myself unhappiness or stress to be the best person I can be or achieve my goals. I had this epiphany about 28 years ago when my wife and I went to a treatment program to learn how to help our daughter, Nicole, who was born with a type of autism called Rett Syndrome. Our counselor encouraged us to give up the unhappiness and stress we were experiencing because of our daughter’s situation and challenged us to choose happiness and peace of mind instead.

Since I was completely stuck where I was, I quickly decided to give this a try. I was relieved and amazed to discover that I had much more energy to meet Nicole’s needs (as well as my own) when I was happy and focused in the moment rather than drowning in my internal angst. I also realized that I could let go of my unhappiness and stress in many other less challenging situations which has added immeasurably to the quality of my life ever since.

If you had the chance,

what sage advice would you give to your younger self?

  • Be your own best friend rather than believing that self-criticism and self-judgment would compel you to grow into your best self or achieve your goals;
  • Don't put your own needs aside to take care of everyone else;
  • Spend less time overthinking everything and more time simply enjoying the present moment, trusting your instincts and going with the flow.

To read more from Nate, check out his website at and click the link to get the book: Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace