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Self-compassion is essential - woman comforting herself

Why Self-Compassion is Essential

On your journey to optimal health, self-compassion is essential.

Do you suffer from a harsh inner-critic? When you criticize yourself, you’re tapping into the body’s threat-defense system. Feeling threatened puts stress on the mind and body, which is bad for emotional and physical well-being. With self-criticism, you are both the attacker and the attacked.

When the stress response (fight–flight–freeze) is triggered by a threat to your self-concept, you’re likely to turn on yourself in counterproductive ways. You may fight yourself (self-criticism), you may flee from others (isolation), or you may freeze (rumination).

Compassion helps you feel safe and cared for, like a child held in a warm embrace. So, when you act compassionately toward yourself, you are deactivating the threat-defense system and activating the care system, which leads to better health outcomes.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a leading self-compassion researcher. This article contains a definition of self-compassion including its 3 essential components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Download the Self-Compassion Guide!

3 Essential Components of Self-Compassion

According to Dr. Neff, “with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” Self-compassion involves acting compassionately towards yourself, as you would others, when you’re having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Essentially, instead of just ignoring your pain, you stop to tell yourself, “This is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

1. Self-kindness

Self-compassion is self-kindness rather than self-judgement. According to Dr. Neff, “self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”

2. Common Humanity

Self-compassion recognizes our common humanity rather than isolating the individual. According to Dr. Neff, “when things don’t go exactly the way we want, we can feel as if I am the only person suffering or making mistakes. However, all humans suffer. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to me alone.”

3. Mindfulness 

Self-compassion requires mindfulness rather than over-identification. According to Dr. Neff, “self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. Mindfulness ensures that we’re not caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”

How to cultivate self-compassion?

Dr. Neff has developed a number of guided meditations and exercises you can use to cultivate self-compassion.

In sum, pain in life—loss, worry, heartbreak, hardship—is inevitable. But when we meet the pain with a stress response and self-criticism, it usually just makes the pain more worse. Acting compassionately toward yourself (and others) is a powerful resource that can help you shift from a threat response to a caring response. When overwhelmed, self-compassion allows you respond to yourself as if a friend walked into the room, gave you a hug, sat down beside you, listened to your distress, and then helped you work out a plan of action. It’s comforting to know that you can be that compassionate friend to yourself and as well as others!


What’s your level of self-compassion? Take the self-compassion survey.

Download the Self-Compassion Guide!

Hire an Integrative Wellness Coach to Accelerate Your Wellness Journey

If you want to cultivate self-compassion, give me a call or send me an email. I’ll work with you to make self-compassion a vital aspect of your lifestyle. Along the way, I’ll be there to encourage your efforts, to celebrate your progress, and to troubleshoot your breakdowns. Read testimonials from satisfied clients.

Be well and enjoy!

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Disclaimer: The information provided through this Website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. If stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness, please consult with a suitable health professional.


  • Neff, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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