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What is Self Compassion? Why Do You Need It?

Women are natural-born navigators. We can sense when something is off, and we’re experts at finding our way through uncharted territory. But sometimes change can be overwhelming, even for the most intrepid of women. If you are finding that change is hard and overwhelming, know that you are not alone. I have another important message to share, too.

Learning self-compassion could change your life in ways that would blow your mind.

Why would people need self compassion to live their best life? When you’re kind to yourself during hard times, it becomes a lot easier to weather whatever storm you’re facing. That’s why learning to show yourself compassion during times of transition is so important.

 If you’re feeling lost or uncertain about the future, this skill could be the key to finding your way again. In this article, we’ll answer the question “What is self compassion?” taking a close look at each piece of it. I’ll also introduce some ideas for putting it into practice in daily life.

Photo of Woman Holding Compass

What is self compassion and why do you need it in your life?

Self-compassion is defined as “the ability to be kind and understanding to yourself when you are experiencing pain, failure, or difficult emotions.”

In other words, self compassion involves treating yourself with the same warmth, understanding, and kindness that you would show to a good friend. When you are self-compassionate, you don’t criticize yourself or dwell on your mistakes. Instead, you focus on your strengths and accept yourself for who you are.

Self compassion has been shown to have a number of benefits, which we will explore a little later in this article. In general, it can boost happiness and physical health and reduce stress and anxiety. No matter who we are or what stage of life we are in, those are valuable outcomes. If you agree, then please read on.

When something in our life changes, it can be difficult to adjust. This is especially true when the change is major, such as a move, a job change, or the loss of a loved one. Such changes can have a significant impact on our mental health and well-being, often causing us to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.

  • People who are experiencing change are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and stress. The incidence of symptoms affecting psychological health remained above baseline for up to 3 years post-change.
  • Women are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and stress than men when navigating change.
  • Transitioning back into the workforce after time off can be especially difficult; up to 85% of women reporting increased stress.

These conditions can have a negative impact on our physical health, emotions, relationships, and work. Those are all HUGE reasons we need self compassion in our lives.

Self kindness means opting for self acceptance instead of defaulting to self judgment or self critical thoughts.

The three components of self-compassion

Self compassion focuses on three key areas. These are mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.


Mindfulness means being aware of what you are feeling in the present moment, without judgment. While meditation is great and has many applications, the focus here is more narrow. For this purpose, the focus if on mindfulness based stress reduction. When you’re mindful, you can accept your feelings instead of pushing them away or trying to ignore them. This can be really helpful when you’re feeling uncomfortable or stressed.

Common Humanity

Common humanity means recognizing that we all experience pain and suffering, and that we are not alone in this. When we feel overwhelmed or lost, it can be really helpful to remember that we are all human and that everyone makes mistakes.

Self Kindness 

Self kindness means being gentle and understanding with yourself when you’re going through a tough time. It means opting for self acceptance instead of defaulting to self judgment or self critical thoughts.

What is self compassion like in practice?

To better understand the practice of self compassion, I suggest we work from a place that will definitely be familiar for most – if not all – of us. Let’s start from a memory of when things were definitely NOT that way.

Take a moment to consider a point in your personal life when you were caught up in negative emotions, perhaps had low self confidence or self esteem, or when your well being had taken a nosedive. When you have that example in mind, think about these questions:

How did you treat yourself? Was your natural and automatic response to blame yourself? Or perhaps to descend into a diatribe of self judgment? What kind of self-talk went through your mind?

It might have gone a little like this:

  • “Great. I screwed up again. No wonder this is such a disaster.”
  • “Everything I do is wrong. Everything. Always. I can’t win for losing.”
  • “I’m such a mess. FFS.”
  • “Why am I such a freaking idiot? Can’t I just be like everybody else?”

Ugh. Not the greatest, eh? It’s common to have that sort of negative emotional response when facing challenges. And, let’s be honest, it is really hard to practice self compassion if we don’t yet know it’s a thing.

Young obese woman rumpling hair with closed eyes in white studio

So that’s a good reference point for the absence of self compassion and what the opposite of self kindness sounds like. Now what? So let’s pretend we have a do-over. Only this time instead of getting lost we practice self compassion.

How would you like to treat yourself? How would it feel to have given yourself the same kindness, understanding, and support that you would give to a close friend? How would you show yourself more compassion and change your internal self talk?

It might  sound a lot more like this:

  • I’m just feeling overwhelmed right now, and that’s okay.
  • I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can ask of myself.
  • I’m allowed to make mistakes, and I’m going to learn from them.
  • I’m strong, capable, and I can get through this.
  • I’m worthy of love and compassion, just like everyone else.

Whew. Huge change and so much more helpful.  Don’t you think so, too?

Now that we know better, we can do better. I want to highlight 3 skills for cultivating compassion and filling a reservoir for self kindness.

Skills to enhance self compassion

While we know that many people struggle with being kind to themselves, it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can replace old habits with new, more compassionate ones. Do you want to know three of the key skills for cultivating compassion and maybe even developing your very own self compassion practice? Read on:


Mindful self compassion is a specific practice that comes from mindfulness based stress reduction. It was developed by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. The practice of mindful self compassion is relatively simple, and it revolves around three key points:

  1. Mindfulness of your body and physical sensations (such as pain or fatigue),
  2. Awareness of your thoughts and emotions,
  3. Kindness and compassion towards yourself, especially during difficult moments.

Mindful self compassion provides not only a way to soothe yourself during difficult times, but also a way to become more aware of your own thoughts and emotions. This increased awareness can help you to respond to difficult moments with more kindness and understanding, rather than harsh self judgment.

So how can you start practicing mindful self compassion? One way is to begin by incorporating some simple mindfulness meditation practices into your daily routine. You can find a variety of guided meditations on YouTube or download an app like Balance (get 1 whole year for free!).

Self Acceptance

Self acceptance is a cornerstone of self kindness and of positive psychology more generally. For example, in the well-known book “The Gifts of Imperfection” author Brené Brown defines it as “the embrace of all that we are, with our flaws and our strengths, our hopes and our fears.”

In order to become more accepting of yourself, it’s important to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, and to start reframing your beliefs about yourself. How? Say nice things. Seriously. It’s called compassionate communication. All you have to do is try putting compassion for yourself into words.

Try It Out: Self-Compassionate Letter Writing:

The basic idea behind this practice is that you write a letter to yourself as if you were your own best friend. In the letter, you offer yourself understanding, kindness, and support.

You can write the letter as if it’s going to be sent to yourself in the future, or you can actually write it out and send it to yourself. The great thing about this practice is that you can do it anytime, anywhere! Start by acknowledging your feelings, then offer understanding and kindness. (For sure, don’t worry about the spelling or grammar.)

Try It Out: Self Compassionate Conversations

Another great way to practice self acceptance is by having compassionate conversations with yourself. This can take many different forms, but affirmations and questions provide a natural place to start. For example, here are a few affirmations:

  • “I am worthy of love and respect.”
  • “I am doing the best I can.”
  • “I am capable and strong.”

Questions you can ask yourself in order to generate self compassion include:

  • “What is happening right now?”
  • “What do I need right now?”
  • “What would be the most compassionate thing for me to do right now?”

These are just a few examples, but it’s important to find what works best for you. Self acceptance is something that you’ll need to work on throughout your life. But by becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions, and by gently reframing your beliefs about yourself, you can make great strides in this area.

mindfulness printed paper near window

Self Care

Just as mindfulness and compassionate language are important skills, so is self care. What do we mean by that? Briefly, self care refers to activities or practices that we do regularly in order to take care of our physical well being as well as psychological well being.

The natural extension of the self compassionate language that comes with self-acceptance is self compassionate behaviors, which we often label self care. Self care can look different for everyone, but there are a few key forms of self care we all need:

  1. Taking care of our physical health,

  2. Nourishing our mind and spirit,

  3. Engaging in meaningful activities, and

  4. Connecting with others.

It’s important to find what works best for you, and to make self care a regular part of your life. This might mean setting aside time each day to do something that is relaxing and calming for you, or it might mean making a point to hydrate or eat a healthy snack. Whatever it is, make sure that it’s something that you enjoy and that feels good for you.

For more self care ideas, check out my article on activities you can do in 10 minutes or less.

So to recap, 3 key skills for self compassion are Mindfulness, Self Acceptance, and Self Care. By cultivating these skills, you can create a foundation for a more compassionate relationship with yourself. And that’s something we could all use more of!

What are some of the benefits of practicing self compassion?

Self compassion offers a number of benefits that can help us get through tough times. Even when things are going swimmingly, it can boost both our physical and psychological health more generally. For the moment, let’s focus on how it can help us to manage our mental health during times of change and transition. Here are some examples:

1. Provides a sense of calm in the storm.

When you’re struggling, it’s easy to get wrapped up in negative thoughts about yourself. “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t do this,” etc. But self compassion allows you to step back and see things more objectively and compassionately. It might still be stormy, but you you have a calmer view of the world as it is. Sure. You’re still capable of making mistakes. However, you know that you’re also capable of forgiving yourself and moving on.

2. Boosts our resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a setback. And studies have shown that people who are more self-compassionate recover from traumatic events faster than those who aren’t.

3. Makes us more productive.

When you’re hard on yourself, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed by perfectionism. But self-compassion allows you to be more realistic about your abilities, and it encourages you to take small steps towards your goals.

4. Leads to more happiness and satisfaction.

The mental health benefits of a self compassion practice is good for our own well being and the well being of others. When you’re kind to yourself, it’s easier to be kind to others. And research has shown that self-compassionate people are also more content with their lives. In other words, the more self compassion the better!

5. Strengthens our relationships.

When you’re able to understand and accept people for who they are, it becomes easier to forgive them when they make mistakes. You know what is NOT good for relationships? Self criticism and self judgment keep us from bringing our whole, authentic self to others, and diminishes relationship satisfaction. And, importantly, self compassion helps you to be more accepting of yourself – which is a key ingredient in any healthy relationship.

Final Thoughts on Self Compassion

Wow. That was a lot of info! But then again, who said that getting results that can literally change your life was going to be easy? 

To recap, here is what we covered:

  • What is self compassion and why we need it to live our best lives
  • The three elements of self compassion (self kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness)
  • What compassion for one’s self looks like in practice
  • Skills for developing greater compassion for ourselves
  • The benefitsfor our mental and physical well being when we treat ourselves compassionately.

So, is practicing compassion toward yourself worth it? ABSOLUTELY. The benefits are clear, and the practice is simple enough that anyone can do it.

If you’re looking to improve your life in any way, self compassion is a great place to start. It is a simple but effective way to boost your well-being. 

Remember to be kind and understanding towards yourself, even when you make mistakes. The benefits of self-compassion are clear – so start today! Please share it with a friend who needs to hear this message, too.

xo, deb in script as the sign off for Deb Durham at ey It's Deb
Thanks for reading!

I hope this was helpful. I try to share tips and tricks to help YOU feel freaking awesome!

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