What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is, essentially, exactly what it sounds like: showing compassion to oneself. It means we show kindness and understanding to ourselves, rather than judgment and self-criticism. When we practice self-compassion, we are giving ourselves permission to support and encourage ourselves.


According to Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading researchers of self-compassion, there are 3 elements of self-compassion:

  1. Self-Kindness – being gentle with ourselves when experiencing difficulty and disappointment helps alleviate the stress, frustration, and sense of inadequacy that comes with self-condemnation

  2. Common Humanity – recognizing that imperfections, failures, and difficult experiences are unavoidable and a part of the human experience keeps us from isolating ourselves and puts our own situation into a larger perspective

  3. Mindfulness – observing our thoughts and feelings as they are rather than trying to suppress, deny, or blow them out of proportion allows us to have openness and clarity around our negative thoughts and difficult emotions


What Self-Compassion is NOT

While practicing self-compassion may seem like a way to avoid responsibility for our actions, the opposite is actually true. When we acknowledge that we are doing the best we can and treat ourselves with kindness even when we’ve made mistakes, we create a safe space to face the truth about ourselves. We are able to take responsibility for our choices because we realize that we can tell ourselves, “I may have done a bad thing, but I am not a bad person.” Likewise, self-compassion is not any of the following:

  • Self-pity – feeling sorry for ourselves causes us to forget that others have similar problems whereas practicing self-compassion reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering and gives us permission to take a step back from our experience to gain a more balanced view

  • Self-indulgence – indulging ourselves often requires us to sacrifice well-being for immediate or short-term pleasure whereas self-compassion recognizes that the health and happiness we deserve takes time and care, making it a powerful motivator for growth and change

  • Self-esteem – our sense of self-worth is often contingent on self-evaluations and/or feeling good about ourselves whereas self-compassion is based on the belief that all people deserve kindness and understanding, including ourselves, and is not dependent on external circumstances


Why Self-Compassion?

Research has shown that self-compassion can have many benefits, including:

  • improved mental and physical wellbeing

  • increased ability to cope

  • taking more responsibility for our actions

  • greater emotional resilience

  • a more accurate concept of self

  • less reactive anger

  • healthier relationships

  • increased motivation to reach goals


How to Practice Self-Compassion

Having compassion for oneself is just like having compassion for others. In order to truly feel compassion for another person, you must notice that they are suffering, feel impacted by their pain and want to help in some way, and recognize that suffering is part of being human. Practicing self-compassion involves the same 3 steps:

  1. Recognize and accept that this is a moment of suffering for yourself

  2. Acknowledge that suffering is a part of life and everyone experiences it

  3. Be kind to yourself and offer yourself comfort and care

If you would like to learn more about how to be self-compassionate, consider booking a free consultation with one of our therapists to ask how we can support you in your desire to show yourself more kindness.

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