Take Care: A lesson in self-compassion

Sarah Fischer, PhD

Have you ever noticed that you are much harder on yourself than you are on other people? 

Many of us tend to be self-critical, setting high standards for ourselves that are difficult to meet. If others fail to meet those high standards, they’ll typically be met with compassion. But having that same compassion for ourselves often is difficult. 

According to Kristen Neff, PhD, a pioneer in the research of self-compassion, self-compassion is made up of three components: 

  1. Self-kindness: “Being loving, gentle and understanding toward oneself and involves actively soothing and comforting oneself in times of struggle.” 
  1. Common humanity: Recognizing that imperfection is part of being human and that we all struggle sometimes, instead of blaming ourselves for not being “good enough.” 
  1. Mindfulness: Responding to distress in a way “that neither stifles and avoids nor amplifies and ruminates on uncomfortable emotions.” 

Self-compassion is an essential building block for finding purpose and meaning in our lives, because self-compassion allows us to be gentle with ourselves as we explore our values and priorities.  

Dr. Neff and other researchers have found that self-compassionate people are less likely to ruminate on their negative thoughts and emotions, and “self-compassion is associated with feelings of life satisfaction, happiness, wisdom, optimism, gratitude, curiosity, creativity and positive affect.” Self-compassion also has positive effects on self-esteem, motivation, health and more. 

So how does someone practice self-compassion? Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Learn more about self-compassion. You may be surprised at the ways that we neglect our own emotional health. 
  • Explore ways that self-compassion may be important or helpful for you personally. 
  • Pay attention to any tendencies toward self-criticism. You may think that self-criticism will motivate you to do better, but tearing yourself down is not helpful in the long run. 
  • Be kind to yourself in a very intentional way. Say to yourself, “I’m going to be kind to myself today and see how it feels.” Notice how thinking kindly about yourself impacts your emotions. 
  • Use compassionate imagery. For example, imagine a very compassionate person in your life — maybe your best friend or your mother — and think about what they would say to you. 
  • Try out some self-compassion exercises, such as those that can be found online at this link.
xKLRVo SS a d pPyBneWlRGYN