What is self-compassion?

Ronald Siegel
Self-compassion is an emerging focus of study by psychologists interested in topics related to positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of happiness and satisfaction. Self-compassion means "being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism," says Kristin Neff, associate professor of human development at the University of Texas, Austin.

How does it work? Just as watching another person's suffering can cause you to feel moved by that person's pain and experience an urge to help, so too does compassion toward one's self bring many benefits for both physical and mental health, Neff says.

"It's acceptance of ourselves when we're in pain," says Chris Germer, a Harvard psychologist and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion.

There are three components to self-compassion, according to Neff:

Self-kindness. This is the ability to be warm and understanding toward yourself when you suffer, to soothe and nurture yourself when confronting pain rather than getting angry.

Common humanity. This is the awareness that you are not alone in your imperfection. And because everyone else makes mistakes, too, it is easier to forgive yourself your own transgressions.

Mindfulness. This is the nonjudgmental observation of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, without trying to suppress or deny them. When you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, accept the bad with the good with a compassionate attitude.

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