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What Is Self-Compassion and How Do I Get It?

If you’re a compassionate person and able to show compassion to others, it would make sense that you would show the same toward yourself. Yet it should come as no surprise that many people have a great deal of difficulty with self-compassion. Indeed, they may not understand self-compassion, let alone know how to get it. The concept is actually rather simple, so let’s take a step-by-step look at self-compassion and how to cultivate it.

Compassion vs. Self-Compassion

What’s involved in compassion? First, you notice that others are suffering. Then you feel moved by their suffering and respond to the pain they’re going through. Feeling empathy (feeling their pain), you want to help end their suffering in some way. Compassion also means being kind to people when they are hurtful toward you or mistreat you, when they make mistakes and fail. You don’t lash out with harsh criticism, but instead offer understanding and forgiveness. Compassion toward another is not pity, but recognition that humans have a shared experience of pain, suffering and failure.

Self-compassion, then, involves the same set of parameters. You have a really bad day and instead of beating yourself up for your mistakes and failures, you act in the same way toward yourself that you would for another having the same kind of bad day. Rather than forcing yourself to live through it, to “grin and bear it,” you acknowledge that you’re having a really bad day — and then do something to care for and comfort yourself in the present.

Compassion and self-compassion are extensions of each other. They complement and enhance the human ability to live life to the fullest — despite the presence of suffering and pain that all humans experience. We also experience joy and happiness and fulfillment.

Recognize the Other “Selves” That Are Not Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, PhD, one of the leading experts on self-compassion ( describes the three other self- concepts that are often confused with self-compassion: self-pity, self-indulgence and self-esteem. But, says Dr. Neff, self-compassion is none of these.

  • Self-pity is egocentric. When you are feeling sorry for yourself, all you can think about is your own problems. You go deep inside yourself and cannot see beyond your troubles. Self-compassion, on the other hand, means that you’re able to see how your experiences are related to others in the world — without the accompanying feelings of isolation and disconnection that self-pity promotes.
  • Self-indulgence is blindly giving yourself pleasure when it may very well cause you harm. After a highly stressful day, if you are so fed up that you think the only way to be good to yourself is to eat yourself into a sugar coma, you are not being self-compassionate but rather self-indulgent. A self-compassionate approach would be to have a relaxing meal with a loved one or friend, to take a long soaking bath with soothing music playing in the background, meditating or reading a good book.
  • Self-esteem, while it pertains to a sense of self-worth, can become distorted if you think only about how good you are or how much you’ve accomplished relative to others. That’s arrogance, leading to narcissistic and self-absorbed behavior. Self-compassion, on the other hand, isn’t based on evaluations of the self. Indeed, it’s more a recognition that you deserve compassion because all human beings deserve it. Always available, self-compassion will be there for you when you need it. According to Dr. Neff and others, self-compassion is associated with greater caring behavior, emotional resilience and more accurate self-concepts.

How to Develop Self-Compassion

Knowing what self-compassion is, how do you develop it? While it may not come about as quickly and easily as you might like, with practice you can become more self-compassionate. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Be kind to yourself — always. This is especially important when things go haywire in your life and everything seems to be negative. But this, too, shall pass, so exercise self-kindness.
  2. Recognize that you’re not perfect. This will help you feel connected to the rest of an imperfect humanity— instead of feeling isolated and alone.
  3. Learn to be mindful of your emotions. Looking at your emotions in a mindful and non-judging way will help you to better see yourself and your situation— instead of becoming clouded by the pain and acting irrationally.
  4. Embrace your own kindness, connectedness and emotional balance to create a strong sense of security and stability. This will allow you to make whatever changes are necessary to do something about your pain and suffering.

As Dr. Neff says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” This is excellent advice and goes a long way toward furthering the understanding of what self-compassion is and how to get it.

Posted on August 8th, 2016

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