Practicing Self-Compassion

November 11, 2021

Our graduate intern Mattie McClaskey shared with us some great insight on self compassion below!

Imagine sitting across from a good friend and listening to their distress over a mistake they made at work. Clearly in need of encouragement and support. Would you tell them that they are a failure? That they always make mistakes? Very likely not! It is easy for us to offer kind words and support to the people we care about, and easy to see how this compassion helps them feel better.  

Yet, many of us fail to give ourselves the same compassion and understanding when in tough spots that we would give a friend. Sometimes our worst critic is ourselves, and we spend too much time beating ourselves up to no helpful end. Exercising self-compassion is important for all of us.   

What is Self-Compassion?  

Self-compassion means giving to yourself. Give the same warmth and supportive understanding you would a good friend. No matter what you do, even if you fail or feel inadequate. Instead of just ignoring your pain or being self-critical, you stop to acknowledge your difficult feelings and offer yourself care and comfort. 

Self-compassion involves three elements:  

Mindfulness (instead of over-identification) 

Instead of being caught up or swept away by negative feelings, mindfulness means noticing our thoughts and emotions as they are without over-exaggerating nor suppressing them. Mindfulness is bringing awareness to our suffering in a non-critical and open way.  

Self-kindness (instead of self-judgment) 

Rather than being self-critical and beating ourselves up, self-kindness is being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel bad. Considering our own needs and being willing to take care of ourselves is a key part of self-kindness. 

Common humanity (instead of isolation) 

Instead of assuming that we are the only ones who make mistakes or are isolated, common humanity means recognizing we are not alone in our experience of suffering. It is knowing that such feelings are things we all experience and can relate to as humans.   

Self-Compassion in Action 

Aside from the key components above, what can self-compassion look like in practice? Here are just a few ways to exercise it in your life: 

Treat yourself as you’d treat a friend  

  1. Consider how you would treat a loved one going through a hard time. Think of the kind words, emotional validation, and support that you would provide, and then give yourself permission to give and receive the same comfort you need.    

Reframing critical self-talk 

  1. Oftentimes there is an inner voice in our heads that is self-critical and harsh, telling ourselves things like “I can’t do anything right.”. Reframing its critical observations in a more friendly, healthy way is a path to building more self-compassionate self-talk. Try to soften and reframe the critical comments of that inner voice to be more compassionate, warm, and realistic – “I am allowed to make mistakes.” “I do the best I can.”   

Soothing touch 

  1. Even the simple gesture of placing one hand on top of your other forearm in a gentle touch can active the body’s care system to help us calm down and feel safe. Other options include massaging your temples or placing your hands over your heart with gentle pressure and warmth while taking deep, satisfying breaths. 


  1. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to one’s present moment and experiences without judgement. If you find your thoughts and feelings are becoming self-critical and harsh, practice noticing these thoughts and feelings as they are with openness and clarity. Then we can nurture the experiences with kindness and compassion while not getting swept away by them.   


  1. You can make self-compassion a part of your life by writing about difficult events in a journal, diary, or letter. It can help to write about the painful emotions that arose, reminders and ways that you are not alone, and words of kindness and understanding. 

Self-compassion is a practice that is linked to lower stress and increased happiness, self-acceptance, and motivation. So, the next time we make a mistake or feel bogged down by negative feelings, there may be a silver lining opportunity to build a self-compassionate inner ally to empower us get through even the toughest of times.  

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