Self-Compassion: What It Is & 3 Ways We Can Practice It by Laura Gongora

Posted by on August 25, 2022

Self-compassion – What is it and how does it work? Some of us have heard of this term before. Many of us may even have an intuitive sense about what it means, and understand that it is an internal practice that requires cultivating. Truth be told: All of us could likely benefit from understanding it better and how it may benefit us in our day-to-day lives.

Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same love, care, and kindness that you would give a friend, a family member, or a stranger going through a hard time. Psychologist, Dr. Kristin Neff identifies 3 main elements of self-compassion: (1) Self-kindness (2) Common Humanity and (3) Mindfulness.


When we practice self-compassion, we practice being kind, caring, and warm toward ourselves when we make mistakes, feel inadequate, or are experiencing difficult feelings and situations rather than being critical, harsh, and judgmental of ourselves.

Common Humanity

When we are going through a difficult time we can feel alone and isolated. We may think “this only happens to me; I must be the only one that feels this way.” Self-compassion recognizes that other people go through similar experiences, and acknowledging this, can help us to better understand our feelings and experiences. Common humanity reminds us that part of being human means to suffer, to make mistakes, to have things be out of our control, and to feel a range of emotions. You are not alone.


Lastly, self-compassion requires us to be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviours with curiosity and openness rather than judging, denying, or overidentifying with our present experience. For example, take a moment to be mindful of your present state: What are you observing around you? What sensations or feelings do you notice in your body? Any thoughts that arise? See if you can sit with what arises without judgment or needing to push it away. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself What do I need right now? How may I care for myself at this moment? Taking a few moments throughout the day to get in touch with yourself in this way is a great way to practice mindfulness.

3 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion practices can look different for everyone. Finding a practice that fits you is important. Below are three exercises to get you thinking about self-compassion.

1.Treat Yourself as You Would Treat a Friend

Think about a time when a close friend was struggling in some way, and you were feeling pretty good about yourself. Take a few deep breaths and visualize the situation and how difficult things may have been for your friend during this time. Think about how you responded to your friend during their struggle, or how you may typically respond to them during hard times (write down your responses if that feels comfortable). What sorts of things do you say to them? What tone of voice do you use? What is your body posture or nonverbal gestures? Is there anything else that stands out to you about the ways you respond to your friend during their struggle? What is it like for you to respond to your friend in this way?

Now take a few more deep breaths and this time I invite you to reflect on a time when you were struggling in some way- it may be a challenge you are currently experiencing (e.g., a relationship problem or an unpleasant emotion) or a self-criticism (e.g., “I’m not attractive enough”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m a failure”). What are some of the feelings that come up for you as you reflect on this struggle? Notice how you tend to respond to yourself- what do you say to yourself? What tone do you use? What is your posture like? Nonverbal gestures? What does it feel like to respond to yourself in this way? Consider the differences between how you treat your close friend when they are struggling and how you treat yourself. Most of us tend to treat those we care about with greater compassion, warmth, love, and kindness than we do ourselves. How might things change for you if you responded to yourself the same way you respond to your friend when they are having a hard time? What are some steps you can take moving forward to intentionally change your relationship with yourself? an enemy or critic? How might you include the three main components of self-compassion?

2.Soothing Touch

Did you know that physical touch has the power to help us soothe and comfort ourselves? This is because physical touch releases the hormone oxytocin in our body, which can help us feel calm and safe, and soothe distressing emotions. Soothing touch can look like:

  • Placing a hand on your heart
  • Giving yourself a hug
  • Cupping one hand in the other
  • Gently stroking your arm or hand(s)

During difficult moments try taking 2-3 deep breaths and explore what it feels like on your body to practice soothing touch. If it feels comfortable, add a self-compassionate statement that includes the 3 components of self-compassion such as, “this is a stressful moment (mindfulness); other people feel this way too (common humanity); may I be kind to myself in this moment (kindness)”.

3. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-Kindness, or Metta meditation, is a formal practice that involves mentally bringing kind intentions towards yourself and others by silently repeating a series of mantras (e.g., “May I be safe, may I be happy, may you be safe, may you be protected”). Regularly practicing loving-kindness has been found to increase our capacity for forgiveness, self-acceptance, and connecting to others, and to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. Find a quiet space, make yourself comfortable and follow along with the loving-kindness recording below:

As you become comfortable with this practice feel free to create your own mantras that feel uniquely caring, tender, and warm to you – and that you wish to extend to others – be that a friend, a loved one, or a stranger.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

At first, being compassionate with ourselves can feel uncomfortable and awkward for various reasons. We may not have been taught how to be compassionate with ourselves or we may hold negative beliefs about self-compassion (e.g., it is selfish, weak, will undermine my motivation). It may also be simply because our brain is wired to focus on the negative; being self-compassionate might not be something that comes natural to us. However, self-compassion is a valuable skill we are all capable of learning and that can provide us with a range of mental and physical benefits including increased life satisfaction, increased self-confidence, healthier relationships, reduced anxiety and depression, reduced stress, and increased resiliency to cope with life stressors. Here is your gentle reminder that you are worthy of the same love, care, kindness, and support you so easily give to others. Go on, give it a try.

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