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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Reagan

Self-Compassion: The break you need and deserve

Self-compassion involves treating the self with care and concern when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, failures, and painful life situations.

It can be argued that building self-compassion skills are the most important psychological skills to develop for good mental health. The relationship we have with ourselves affects virtually all aspects of our life.

If we do not accept ourselves for who we are and feel that we can only be “enough” if we reach certain standards, we are bound to a life of suffering.

Some people fear that self-criticism is motivating and self-compassion might lead to laziness or a loss of motivation. However, research has shown the opposite to be true. The greater compassion we have for ourselves, the greater our ability to pursue and stick to goals that support our well-being.

Self-compassion is a positive attitude we can have towards ourselves, and it’s also an empirically measurable construct. Operationally defined and introduced to the positive psychology literature by Associate Professor Dr. Kristin Neff, it is comprised of three separate constructs: Self-kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness (Neff, 2003a; 2003b). Having self-compassion means being able to relate to yourself in a way that’s forgiving, accepting, and loving when situations might be less than optimal. We know that it’s similar to (yet less permanent than) self-love and that it’s distinct from self-esteem, but how do we show self-compassion? Self-kindness is about showing kindness and understanding toward ourselves when we fail at something, or when we are hurt (Neff, 2003a). Rather than being critical or judging ourselves harshly when we already feel pain, we can recognize the negative influence of self-judgment and treat ourselves with warmth and patience instead (Gilbert & Irons, 2005).

Common Humanity allows us to be more understanding and less judgmental about our inadequacies. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are largely impacted by factors outside of our control: parenting history, culture, genetic and environmental conditions, as well as the demands and expectations of others. After all, if we had full control over our behavior, how many people would consciously choose to have anger problems, addiction issues, debilitating social anxiety, an eating disorder? Many aspects of ourselves and the circumstances of our lives are not of our intentional choosing, but instead stem from innumerable factors that our outside our sphere of influence. When we acknowledge this reality, failings and life difficulties do not have to be taken so personally.

And lastly, mindfulness. Mindfulness generally requires us to be able to pay attention to any experience or emotive feeling – positive, negative or neutral – with acceptance and without attaching constructs. Self-compassion is generally more embedded in developing an understanding and acceptance of solely negative experiences or emotions. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2012), mindfulness is:

“A moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

What resonates with you about self-compassion? If you are interested in learning more about living self-compassionately, I encourage you to reach out.

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