It’s considered admirable to be kind, loving and comforting to friends, family and even strangers. But many people consider it selfish to be kind to themselves.
If you find yourself to be often critical and impatient with yourself and intolerant of your very human flaws, maybe it’s time to add more self-compassion to your life.
Self-compassion could move that anxiety, stress or depression down a notch and make more room for optimism, joy and peace.
Think about how you act and what it feels like when you are compassionate to others. You notice someone is suffering. Your heart responds and you have a desire to help. Most important, you offer understanding and kindness, not judgement or criticism.
Self-compassion is showing kindness to yourself when you’re experiencing suffering, are having a difficult time, or even when you fail, says Kristen Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the book Self-Compassion.
In your imperfections, in fragility, you understand that this is just part of being human. With that understanding, you gain self-compassion.
"Things will not always go the way you want them to," says Neff. "You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition."
When you feel self-pity, you may become immersed in your own problems and forget that others may be experiencing the same kind of challenges.
To put it simply, if you have self-pity, you think you are the only one with problems. That can cut you off from connection with others and increase your isolation.
Self-indulgence is also not self-compassion. Trying to make yourself temporarily feel better with alcohol, drugs or overeating is not self-compassion, because in the long run, it is likely to have more of a negative effect than a positive one.
If you make a mistake and criticize yourself, it doesn’t get you to a better place. Neff’s view is that by trying to motivate yourself by self-criticism is a negative approach.
"Self-criticism is strongly linked to depression," says Neff. "And you’re unable to be motivated to change if you’re depressed."
Self-compassion can have the opposite effect. If we make a mistake and realize we’re only human, and forgive ourselves, there’s less tendency to depression and more chance of being motivated. A little self-compassion can go a long way to optimism and positive change.
You don’t need to earn self-compassion or be better than anyone else to get it, says Neff. All human beings deserve self-compassion just for being themselves and being human.
Here’s a short quiz created by Neff to see how self-compassionate you are:
Here is a link to some meditations for self-compassion:
Kristen Neff, What Keeps Us from Being Kinder to Ourselves, Psychology Networker, September/October 2015
Marsh, Jason, The Power of Self-Compassion, Greater Good, March 14, 2012,
Neff, Kristin, Self-Compassion, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, 2016.
Neff, Kristin, Self-Compassion, Part 1