“Self-compassion involves the capacity to comfort and soothe ourselves, and to motivate ourselves with encouragement, when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion is learned in part by connecting with our innate compassion for others, and self-compassion also helps to grow and sustain our compassion for others.”

– Chris Germer, co-founder of the Mindful Self Compassion Centre

Helpers and caregivers offer an abundance of patience, respect, and compassion to those they care for and support. However, many of us can be quite harsh and critical of ourselves and struggle with thoughts of being unworthy or not good enough. Offering ourselves the same kind of dignity and grace we give to others can be a foreign concept and can sometimes be viewed as self- indulgent, making excuses for ourselves or encouraging self-pity[1]. Practicing self compassion, however, can sustain us in this work, enhancing our effectiveness as service providers and mitigating the impact of Vicarious Trauma.


Simply put, self-compassion is the act of treating ourselves with kindness. Self-compassion is an ancient practice derived from Eastern philosophies and contemplative practices that cultivates wisdom, resilience and motivation. Self-compassion is about reflecting on how we can turn the concept of compassion inwards, to support our own emotional development and acceptance.


Research tells us that practicing self-compassion has long term benefits for our overall health and well-being. There are now over 2500 studies on the benefits of self-compassion and one of the most consistent findings is that self-compassion is related to reduced mental illness. It has also been shown that self-compassion is associated with numerous psychological strengths, less extreme reactions, less negative emotions, more accepting thoughts, and a greater perspective. It is also known to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events.

Self compassion is related to:

Reductions in: Depression, Stress / Stress hormone (Cortisol), Shame, Anxiety, Fear of Failure, Suicide Ideation, Post Traumatic Stress, Burnout.

Increases In: Life Satisfaction, Motivation, Flexibility, Coping, Resilience, Immune Response, Physical Health, Oxytocin (Body’s natural pain reliever).

Based on the writings of various Buddhist teachers, Kristin Neff and Sharon Salzberg operationalized Self Compassion as consisting of 3 core components[2]:

  1. Mindfulness versus Over-Identification
    • Turning towards our painful thoughts and emotions as they are, while avoiding the extremes of suppression or avoidance as well as over identifying with and ruminating over negative thoughts and feelings.
    • When we resist pain and suffering by turning away from them, our suffering increases[3]. It is very difficult to ignore or deny pain one is experiencing AND feel compassion for it at the same time.
  2. Self- Kindness versus Self -Judgment
    • Holding our pain with love and acceptance
    • Directing kindness inwards and extending the same empathy and understanding to ourselves that we would give to others.
    • Asking ourselves:
      • What do I need to support myself right now?
      • Do I need to take a moment to sooth and nurture myself?
      • Do I need more connection with others?
      • Do I need self-care
  3. Common Humanity versus isolation
    • Teachers of self compassion say there is an inherent connectedness in the experience of compassion. We include ourselves in the circle of compassion when we remind ourselves that:
      • Suffering is part of the human condition
      • The human condition is imperfect, and we are not alone in our suffering
      • Seeing our own experiences as part of the larger human experience allows us to move away from isolation and toward connection
    • If we can let go of some of the resistance we have to what isn’t within our control and release our attachment to what should and shouldn’t be, our suffering is decreased[4].

Ways to Cultivate Compassion

Self-compassion is not simply a passive acceptance of what is. There is also an active change component that includes letting go of what we can’t control so that we can work on what is within our control. Both energetic fields of self compassion are necessary. We need to ‘be with’ ourselves in a soft, tender and reassuring way to be able to validate our pain, which allows us to heal. And we need to be able to stand up, draw boundaries and protect ourselves. Neff calls the combination of this level of acceptance of ourselves and the action to make changes in our lives “fierce self-compassion”[5].

Research suggests that we can build compassion and cultivate a compassionate mindset by:

  • Encouraging cooperation
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Refraining from placing blame on others
  • Acting against inequality
  • Being receptive to others’ feelings without adopting those feelings as your own[6]


The following is an example of a mantra that can be repeated to ourselves in any moment of suffering or difficulty or stress. It incorporates all three components of self-compassion mentioned above.

  1. Call the situation to mind and notice any feelings of stress or emotional discomfort in your body.
  2. Say to yourself:
    • “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” (Mindfulness)
    • “Suffering is a part of life” or “Other people feel this way” (Common Humanity)
  3. Put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. (Or use whatever soothing touch feels right for you).
  4. Then say to yourself: 
    • “May I be kind to myself” (Self Kindness)
  5. You may also ask yourself:
    • “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” such as:
      • May I give myself the compassion that I need
      • May I learn to accept myself as I am
      • May I forgive myself
      • May I be strong
      • May I be patient

[1] Neff, K. D. (2011).  Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself.  New York:  William Morrow.

[2] Retrieved from

[3] Germer, Christopher. The Mindful Path to Self Compassion, Guilford Press, 2009.

[4] Self Compassion, Kristen Neff, PhD, Harper Collins, 2011

[5] Neff, K (2021). Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive. Harper Wave: NY.

[6] Retrieved from