last updated July 14, 2021

What Is Self-Compassion and How to Practice It

by Rob Arthur

Self-compassion is a “must” for your pursuit of health and happiness.

This article will help you learn what it is, its benefits, and how to practice it.

If you have any questions after reading, let me know in the comments 🙂

What is self-compassion?

According to self-compassion researcher, author, and teacher Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three main components (1).

The first component is self-kindness versus self-judgment.

That is, being caring and understanding with yourself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.

The second component is a common sense of humanity versus isolation.

For example, recognizing that your own flawed nature is part of a shared human imperfect condition.

The third component of self-compassion is mindfulness versus overidentification.

For instance, being aware of your present experience, neither ignoring nor ruminating on what you dislike about yourself or your life.

That said, you might think this all sounds a little “woo-woo” or “hippy-dippy.”

However, there’s plenty of research demonstrating how taking such steps might benefit your life.

What are the benefits of self-compassion?

A 2020 survey revealed a strong association between self-compassion and self-rated health (2).

The survey involved over 6100 participants across 6 university student, 16 community adult, and 4 chronic illness sample groups.

In fact, the association did not vary across different participant ages, sexes, or sample groups.

Of course, you might be curious whether these self-reported associations are reflected in harder outcomes.

So, let’s look at some more specific, objective benefits practicing self-compassion might provide.

Mental and emotional health benefits

One 2019 meta-analysis looked at the effects of self-compassion interventions on psychosocial outcomes (3).

The analysis included 27 randomized controlled trials and almost 1500 participants.

Its results suggested improvements across several aspects of mental and emotional health.

For example, there were large effects observed on rumination and eating behaviors like binge eating.

Additionally, there were moderate effects observed on stress, depression, mindfulness, self-criticism, and anxiety.

Moreover, depression symptoms continued to improve through participant follow-up, long after intervention.

Yet, the benefits of practicing self-compassion aren’t limited to the mind.

Physical health benefits

Another 2019 meta-analysis looked at the relationships between self-compassion, physical health, and health-promoting behaviors (4).

Unlike the previously discussed meta-analysis, this one included both interventions and observations.

It also included a much larger collective participant pool of nearly 30,000 individuals.

The analysis revealed strong effects of self-compassion on overall physical health, functional immunity, and sleep.

Moreover, it showed that self-compassion appeared to encourage health-promoting behaviors.

The authors of the analysis suggest it might have this behavioral effect through a number of ways:

  • ameliorating negative emotions like self-criticism, shame, and stress.
  • fostering the realization that everyone can make mistakes, fail to reach goals, or experience misfortune.
  • eliciting positive emotions that provide motivation to attain health goals.
  • prompting adaptive coping strategies that facilitate movement toward these goals.
  • invoking feelings of self-kindness that drive the desire to take care of one’s body.

That all being said, you might be wondering just how in the world to actually practice self-compassion.

How to practice self-compassion

Putting an end to beating yourself up isn’t easy.

However, there are steps you can take to start being a little less hard on yourself.

First, consider establishing a regular mindfulness practice.

This may help you be more aware of your words, thoughts, and feelings.

Second, work on identifying patterns of rumination or harsh self-criticism.

That is, what overly critical or judgmental things might you think, say, and feel toward yourself?

You might find a journal or diary helpful with this effort.

Third, be objective about your self-appraisal.

You very well might be deeply flawed and fall short of your own expectations.

This isn’t a reflection of you being broken, unworthy, or less deserving.

It’s a reflection of your humanity and your recognition that you have the potential to be better.

Finally, make a plan to address your shortcomings.

Work to improve those things that are within your control and to accept those that are not.

If you need help or guidance, consider some of the resources and exercises at self-compassion.org.

Understand that this will take time and you won’t change overnight.

You will struggle, and that’s okay.

Keep showing up, even when, not if, you make mistakes.

Every failure is a learning experience.

You will never be perfect, so aim for progress.

Do what you can.

That’s all you can do.

You’ve got this.


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