5 Important Things to Know About Self-Compassion

5 Important Things to Know About Self-Compassion

When moving through difficult times, do you offer yourself kindness and look at the bigger picture or do you criticise and berate yourself for your shortcomings?

Over the years, I have witnessed many conversations involving women helping and supporting others move through difficult times in their lives.  While they found it natural to extend compassion to others, the desire to ease another’s suffering, they were reluctant to offer this same care and understanding to themselves when going through their own troublesome times.

Why do we find it hard to show compassion to ourselves?

Many of us have been taught that we should always put others first and it is selfish or arrogant to think about ourselves. When things don’t work out as we expected, we tend to unduly criticise ourselves.  However, studies have shown that self-criticism can lead to more adverse consequences such as anxiety and depression.

What exactly is self-compassion?

Self-compassion involves caring and being of comfort to yourself when you are experiencing times of difficulty.   You create a space where you can see your situation or failure, without judgment, acknowledge your suffering and be understanding and gentle with yourself just as you would be with a close friend going through a similar situation.

How is this different to self-pity?

Self-pity is being engrossed in your own emotional drama to the extent of feeling isolated and disconnected from others. There is a tendency to exaggerate the extent of personal distress and over identifying with negative thoughts and emotions.

Why is it important?

Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer of research on the topic, explains how cultivating self-compassion can provide us with a stable sense of self-worth during times of criticism or failure. We can then view the situation as a mistake we made rather than believing we are a bad person.

Self-compassion has been linked to greater happiness, optimism, resilience and overall life satisfaction.

When we have a physical wound we look after it so that it will heal, we clean it, add soothing balm and put a bandage on it. By practicing self-compassion, we learn to nurture our psychological well being giving ourselves a chance to heal our emotional wounds.

Going deeper – the 3 elements of self-compassion

According to Dr. Neff, there are 3 core components involved in self-compassion – mindfulness, a sense of common humanity and self-kindness.  Included are examples of how to evoke the 3 aspects when you want to show yourself compassion

  • Mindfulness 

Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach where you can recognise and acknowledge your negative thoughts without being consumed and swept away by them.

–    You might say to yourself  – “This is stressful, or this hurts.”

  • Common humanity

Self-compassion involves recognising that all humans suffer, make mistakes, and experience feelings of rejection and inadequacy.  This is part of the shared human experience, and we are all in this together.  It’s about recognising that you are not alone in your struggles, others too are dealing with similar experiences and feeling what you are feeling.

– You can remind yourself – “I’m not alone, other people feel this way.”

  • Self-kindness

When faced with personal suffering, self-compassion evokes being gentle and understanding with yourself.  Rather than passing judgment, getting angry or criticising yourself for shortcomings, you see the situation for what it is and extend kindness to yourself when dealing with your suffering.

Putting your hands over your heart,

Ask yourself – “What do I need to hear to express kindness to myself?”

You might like to choose

 –    May I forgive myself

–    May I learn to accept myself as I am

–    May I give myself the compassion that I need.

If you don’t already show yourself compassion, you might find it unnatural at first but, like with learning anything new, the more you practise, the easier it becomes.  Dr. Neff has developed several exercises and guided meditation practices to enhance self-compassion, which you can find on her website

What helps you be more self-compassionate? What is the hardest part of being compassionate to yourself?


Neff, K. D., & Costigan, A. P. (2014) Self-compassion, wellbeing and happiness,  Psychologie in Osterreich, 114-117

Neff, K. D., & Rude, S. S., & Kilpatrick. K (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits.  Journal of Research in Personality, 41 908-916

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