What is self-compassion?

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is not very different of feeling compassion towards others. Dr Kristin Neff [1] describes its components.


1. Recognizing suffering.

First you need to recognize suffering. This first step is quite difficult for me as I was raised to ‘work through it’ and to ‘keep my chin up’. The question I was asked a lot was: ‘Does it hurt?’ No, go on then.’ Now I’m learning some basic things. My therapist needed to explain (!) to me that it is normal to feel tired after working. She also said that some things in life are stressful like moving and that it is quite normal to feel uneasy when you haven’t found ‘your’ space yet when living in a new home. And that is where this handy dandy notion of self-compassion comes in.


2. Be called to action as a response.

The second component is to be moved by the suffering. Suffering evokes compassion for the person, you understand how it can feel like to be in his or her shoes. You are compelled to help, the face of the “other” calls you to responsibility and that goodness is infinitive[2]. For me it is more easy to see goodness and the need for help or support in the face of others. Looking at myself I tend to criticize myself harsher than I would criticize others. I need to find some common ground here. I need to define what my responsibilities are and which ones belongs to someone else or to a group of people. For instance, I can only follow the recommendations of our government as best as I can in regards to the Corona outbreak. When I see that people on the street really try to make an effort to practice social distancing, I can only feel joy that our individual efforts seems to help the larger group. And I am a part of that.


3. Be part of the human experience.

Finally, you realize that suffering, failure and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. You open your hart to it. Ha! That one is what made me write this post today. I don’t like to fail. Failing an sich is not too bad, what I don’t like is my inner critic feeling entitled to come out to play and have its merry way. I just know that I’ll suffer twice for one failure and that is what I’m attempting to change or to soften. What I did was to ignore sad or negative emotions. Part of growing up and to integrate my inner child would be to be able to comfort her, when she feels like a failure. To tell her that the world won’t come to an end because I didn’t get the job or when the job doesn’t seem to fit me anymore. Experiencing burn out was really hard for me in that matter. It was my dream job, it was my calling and I am good at it. Not being able to do that anymore makes me doubt my abilities and withholds me from seeking out new opportunities.





What self-compassion is NOT.

Being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long term. It implies that you are also called to action towards yourself and to take responsibility for your own life. It doesn’t mean to shame yourself into actions or changes. It can provide a useful vehicle to approach and accept those difficult feelings about yourself. Sometimes we think that we can shame ourselves into change. We accept our inner critic, thinking he’s right, I should stop … (fill in what you want) because it’s not right. What we don’t want is the difficult feelings to come to the surface because we will need to be brutally honest with oneself and endure those difficult times. Only then (imo) behavioral change can result in a change of patterns that are deeply rooted in oneself. I noticed that changing and letting go can evoke old pain or trauma. By holding on to patterns that are no longer serving us and to deny ourselves the self-compassion we deserve, we’re covering that (possible) trauma. For example we work too hard, we demand a lot from ourselves or we indulge in unhealthy behavior… And what would be more easy: to keep it covered and live with it or to get through it? Now ask the same question as if we’re talking about someone else. What would be beneficial in the long run?


Is self-compassion different from self-esteem?

I’ve started this post a long time ago, when I wanted to learn more about (low) self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. While there is little doubt that low self-esteem is problematic and often leads to depression and lack of motivation, trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic [3]. The need for high self-esteem may encourage us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we can’t see ourselves clearly and accurately. Our self-esteem is often dependent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances. I’ve noticed this in my personality quite a lot as I am a people pleaser. I want to be accepted, it makes me feel safe. I’ve learned this as a little girl but now I’m starting to realize that being dependent on fluctuating external circumstances doesn’t has the ability to make me happy. Stabilizing the inner storms maybe will. Funnily enough stabilizing the core of me needs  the ability to accept change.


As a species we need change, we can’t grow and maybe not even live our lives. We merely would endure it without the option to evolve. Suffering seems to be a motor of growth and with that the need to open up to our imperfections. It is the cycle of life. Sadly for us, perfectionists, we can’t control or deny this reality, if we ever want to be happy.


How can we practice self-compassion?

Think about something that is difficult for you. Find a situation that you worry about for example. Bring the situation to the forefront of your mind.

Can you recognize the suffering for you? Find language that would acknowledge your difficulties. For me this is acknowledging that it is hard to recover from depression while dealing with external uncertainty of having a new home that doesn’t feel like home yet, while in the midst of even more uncertain times. To place yourself in the bigger picture can help you to feel less alone and to feel your emotions more accurate without dwelling on them.

Thus we remind ourselves of the common humanity. Find a language that speaks to you. ‘It is not abnormal to feel this way’. ‘Many people go through this’, the flavor may be different.

The third step would be to say: ‘May I be kind to myself in this moment’. Put your hands over your heart or another part of your body. Allow yourself to feel the support. Let kindness flow through your hands. Imagine the kindness you would evoke while talking to a friend going through the same circumstances. Anything that feels natural to express your wish to be happy and free of worry and suffering.

Allow yourself to feel just as you are in this moment. Maybe you can feel some comfort after this exercise.



Do you struggle with self-compassion or maybe perfectionism? Did you try the exercise or are you willing to try it? Let me know how it went. Or when you have other remarks, please leave them in the comments.



References and sources.


[1] Online source. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/ (2020).

[2] Blog. https://demonstrationoflearnings.blogspot.com/2015/06/how-emmanuel-levinas-describes-good.html (2020).

[3] https://self-compassion.org/what-self-compassion-is-not-2/

Image credits, click here.

38 thoughts on “What is self-compassion?

  1. As always, your posts are highly informative. There’s a real need to understand what self-compassion is (and isn’t) and to consistently work on applying it so that it almost becomes a default reaction in us.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I just finished reading Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion, and I think you’d like it. I’m generally pretty self-compassionate and I fail at something I’m more likely to focus on the consequences going forward rather than beating myself up for things I’ve already done.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. We have low self-compassion, high perfectionism, and low common humanity. This post was very informative and we could feel your interest in the topic. We can be only in one Now, and there isn’t much compassion. Fear rules us. We will keep practicing Neff’s (and Germer’s) steps. Brains take time to wire, it seems

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Every thing worth while will take time and effort. As for me, I’m at the beginning stages and practice the baby steps. Every step is one forward.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can send yous an ebook copy if yous want. 🙂

        While I like Kristin Neff, especially her research on “backdraft” in trauma therapy, I didn’t relate much to her book. Haven’t read much of Germer. It just seemed like the book I read wasn’t for folks with trauma. Where as Beverly Engel is a survivor herself and therapist who treats complex trauma, so she really drills into why self compassion is hard for us and how we can start building the prerequisites.

        I recommend that book and her other books a lot.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. No way we’re literal twins, my friends. Else you’ll be someone I name on my blog. But metaphorical maybe, i think I consider myself fortunate to know yous. 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘Lazy’ is such a deadly word to happiness. It’s a weird concept as I think about it. People aren’t lazy, they really do what they can with what they are given. (most of the time).
      Your boys are doing a great job it seems, now the mom has to listen!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for such a wonderful post 🙂 I practiced self compassion today in the form of accepting my negative thoughts and feelings and reminding myself they don’t make me a bad person, many people would feel as I do in this situation. And then work on how I can feel better, maybe a meditation, walk, a nap……

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is a wonderful example you set! I find it difficult to accept negative thoughts and not let them ruin my day and mood. So I need to keep on practicing and each step towards acceptation is a step forwards. Great tip to turn it into a positive and work towards a better feeling. It’s more easy to approach something through a positive lens and to let the ‘fight’ be. I’m going to remember your comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes it is a struggle for sure! When I’m drowning in negativity my first feeling is that I’m defective and a bad person. There are days it’s difficult to dig myself out, but I know it’s worth it to put in the effort. Hugs to you and you transition into your new living space, it will feel like home before you know it!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. When I was newly disabled, I was newly unable to do things, or they took much longer. It was a big deal to learn that I just had to shrug. That’s true even now, although over time I have learned to do a lot of things. Self-compassion seems a very grand term, but I just had to learn to cut myself some slack.
    But as you say, this is totally unrelated to self-esteem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a big deal and it takes some getting used to, much flexibility and letting go and adaptation. ‘Till we find some equilibrium it can be a bumpy road. Giving yourself some slack can be the same as self-compassion. I guess they call it that way because the exercises and the theory is a bit leaning on the mindfulness train, which has its roots in Buddhism. Whatever we call it, to be kind to yourself isn’t a bad thing and is a good way of helping ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s an excellent point, that compassion for ourselves is really not that much different from having compassion toward other people. Often, when we are caught up in the busy flow of life, we forget to watch both other people and our selves for signs of distress. I know I certainly tend to assume that of course I know how I’m doing because I have a direct window into myself, but even with this window it’s easy to gloss over the little signs because they aren’t the priority right now. Those inner signs really do need to be more of a priority, because addressing them prevents so much confusion and struggle later on. So every now and then I try to really question myself. I look at my actions, try to explain them, and if that explanation sounds hollow, prod the feelings underlying them. Only once I can honestly explain myself can I offer myself the compassion I need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a beautiful comment. Thank you very much. I like how you speak about the window into oneself. I believe that that window needs to be clear one, because when we know what we are feeling (even the small signs!) we can take better care of us, of bodies and minds. We need to cherish that window, look often through it, clean it when it gets dirty and ask ourselves what do we really see.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great write-up. Thank you for posting it to the community! I think of failure a little differently (as I think everyone does), and this is due to having done a lot of personal development on myself. Anyway, I don’t mind failing anymore. In what may seem strange to many people, I embrace it… as long as I am learning from it.

    Liked by 1 person

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