RAIN Meditation: This Small Therapy Exercise Actually Helps Me Practice Self-Compassion

My therapist will be the first to tell you that I’m not always super nice to myself—and for a while, I disagreed. Anytime I talked about myself or my experiences in a way that my therapist pointed out might be unkind, I had an excuse at the ready. I’m not beating myself up, I’m just a perfectionist. I’m not being harsh, I objectively deserve the criticism. I’m not judging my emotions unfairly, I’m just being honest. But spoiler alert: I’m often a total monster to myself and don’t even realize it. Which, tbh, is how negative self-talk and feelings of unworthiness tend to work.

It’s human nature to accept our thoughts as true and normal instead of unpacking them. In turn, they slowly become internalized beliefs that impact how we treat ourselves. Because I don’t often feel like I’m outright bullying or insulting myself, it took me a while to recognize certain thought patterns for what they were: manifestations of a lack of self-compassion that was getting in the way of my mental health.

Realizing all of that is the first step. The next step is a lot harder: actively working to undo the habitual self-judgment that, for many of us, is second nature. It’s easy to tell ourselves—or for our therapists to tell us—to be more self-compassionate, but what does that actually look like in practice?

Realistically, it looks like a long journey of interfacing directly and honestly with our most vulnerable thoughts and feelings. I’m still figuring it out. But there is one tool my therapist taught me that I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of lately. If you’re trying to practice more self-compassion, you might find it helpful too.

RAIN is a four-step process.

It stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-identification. Mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald is popularly credited for creating RAIN as a meditation, and several psychologists have since adapted and expanded on it, including Tara Brach, Ph.D., in her book Radical Compassion. In Brach’s take on RAIN, the N stands for Nurture.

Like many therapeutic tools, there are many uses of the various iterations of the RAIN meditation, whether you’re using it to battle negative self-talk or calm anxious thoughts. In general, though, most versions of RAIN are based on mindfulness, which basically means it’s about taking the time to pause and pay attention to what you’re experiencing. In this case, certain thoughts or emotions.

For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about how I learned RAIN from my therapist: as a mindful self-compassion tool.

Here’s how the RAIN meditation breaks down.

Recognize: The first step here is about getting in the habit of putting words to thoughts and feelings as they’re happening. That could be anything from “Ah, I’m worrying that my friends hate me because they ignored my contribution in the group chat” to “Oh, I’m feeling like a failure after getting feedback on that presentation.” Sometimes it’s difficult to do at first, given how emotions can roll over us as physical, difficult-to-name sensations, but you can get better with practice.

Allow: As in, allow the thought and emotion to exist without immediately trying to push it away, change it, or judge it. This is an easy step to skip, especially if you’re in the practice of pushing against your negative voice. And while it might sound like the right call not to engage when your inner monologue is being a dick, oftentimes that just shoves the feelings down deeper. Giving yourself a moment to feel your feelings and allow the thought in without jumping to correct it or judge yourself is a necessary step, even if it can feel raw or uncomfortable.

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