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Self-Compassion: What is it and how do you do it?

It has been awhile since I last posted! I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the majority of September traveling in China and Tibet. It was an amazing trip, and part of the fun of traveling for me is having more time than usual to read books on my ever-growing “to read” list. One of the books I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time is a book called Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

As someone guilty of doing exactly what she says in the title to stop doing, I was very intrigued! Dr. Neff defines self-compassion as a process of first, stopping to recognize our own suffering, and rather than “condemning ourselves” for our weakness, mistakes, failures, etc. that we use our experience of suffering to soften our hearts and respond in the same caring way to ourselves that we could respond to a friend or family member that was hurting or in pain.

Dr. Neff and her colleagues have conducted extensive research on the benefits of self-compassion to emotional well-being, and consistently find that people who show more compassion for themselves are less depressed and anxious, and more content and optimistic. Sounds great, right? So, how can this quality be fostered?

First, it helps to take a compassionate stance towards developing self-compassion. :) It develops over time, and with practice! Having said that, here are the basic steps from Neff’s book:

1. Acknowledge the universality of human experience. We all suffer. We all do and say things we regret. No one is perfect.

2. Acknowledge your suffering when it happens. Practice awareness of the key signs that you are struggling. Do you get depressed? angry? defensive? Do you isolate? Eat more? Use drugs or alcohol? Each person will have their own signs and signals. Some of you may know your signs already, others may need to take some time to observe themselves.

3. Develop a self-compassion mantra. Your knee jerk may be to criticize yourself. Old habits die hard! But the next thing you can do is come up with an intentional phrase that you can repeat to yourself to nurture yourself and demonstrate compassion. (For example, something simple like “This is really hard right now” could work. Neff has a set of 4 phrases that she uses for her own mantra: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”)

My own very wise therapist says to treat all of our experiences and feelings in the same way that you would hold an infant; with care and curiosity and with efforts to meet the infant’s needs. May you all give yourselves the compassion you need!

Thanks for reading!

If you are interested in Kristin Neff’s work, you can check out her website here:

If you are interested in purchasing the book, you can support your favorite local bookstore, or support mine here:

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