What is Self-Compassion?


At Balanced Minds, we’re all about compassion, and in particular, self-compassion.

But given this, it’s important to be able to answer the question “what is self-compassion?”

So below we’ll explore ideas about what self-compassion is, including some of the common myths and misunderstands are about it, and how we can help you to increase your level of self-compassion

What is self-compassion?

What is self-compassion?

There are different ways of looking at this question. 

For example, Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading reserachers on self-compassion, suggests it consists of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
The definition that we go with at Balanced Minds is based upon Compassion Focused Therapy, and suggests that self-compassion is:
              a sensitivity to our own distress, with a commitment to relieve and prevent this
One way to understand this is to see that self-compassion includes two key things:
(i) The first bit involves being able to notice and engage in your own distress, rather than blocking it out, trying to fight it or telling yourself there’s something wrong for having the struggle
(ii) The second part involves developing wise and skillful ways of being with your distress, and where possible, finding ways to reduce it.


What makes self-compassion difficult?

One of the difficulties with self-compassion is that many people hold negative beliefs about what it is, and involves. Some of the common ones are that:

  • it’s weak
  • it will make you self-indulgent & selfish
  • it’s about letting yourself off the hook
  • it will make you drop your standards

These are valid concerns – in fact, some colleagues of mine even developed a questionnaire to measure the fears of self-compassion which you can take here … and you know something is common in life if a psychologists develops a questionnaire to measure it!

But interestingly, self-compassion involves none of those things. In fact, studies have found that self-compassionate people are resilient rather than weak, are caring of others rather than selfish, and take more responsibility for mistakes and set backs, rather than letting themselves off the hook. In CFT we talk about these as the fears, blocks and resistances to compassion (FBRs), and it’s important to recognise that these are common for many people. And crucially, studies have found that when you take a course of CFT or compassionate mind training, this leads to a significant reduction in the fears, blocks and resistances to compassion.

If you want to find out whether you have any fears or difficulties around self-compassion, take our short test here

Why is Self-Compassion Important?

Many of us have been trained to be caring and empathic to other people, including our patients, and recognise that this is an integral part of relieving distress. It turns out that doing the same thing for ourselves – known as self-compassion – also brings lots of benefits too. 

There are now thousands of published studies highlighting how self-compassion is linked to positive physical and mental health, healthy relationships as well as happiness and wellbeing.

But why is this important? Well, it’s always fanscinated me that if you could somehow take all the time you spend in relationship with other people in your life – family, friends, colleagues and partners – this will come no where close to the amount of time that you spend in relationship with yourself. But heres the rub – for most people, the way that they relate to other people is far kinder, far more caring and supportive than they relate to themselves.

Unfortunately, rather than with compassion, many people often relate to themselves in unkind, critical or even harsh ways. But they’d rarely be like this with other people. Think about it for a moment – imagine a really good friend, someone you care about a lot. Imagine that they’d had a really difficult time at work, and been treated unfairly by their boss – when they talk to you about this, and describe their distress, it’s very unlikely that you’d speak to them in the way we often speak to ourselves – “it’s your fault, you always mess up like this” or “your so stupid – everyone thinks the same”

How compassionate do you feel you can be with yourself? Take our short self-compassion test and find outcome

Can Self-Compassion be Trained?


So whilst we might have answered the question ‘what is self-compassion’, it’s important to consider whether you can increase its levels. To put it simply, yes you can!

There are now thousands of studies showing that like a muscle, can for ourselves can be trained and worked out. There are lots of ways to do this, but at Balanced Minds, we’ve got a few that you might find helpful:

  1. Meet with one of our experienced, supportive therapists
  2. Take one of our online self-compassion courses
  3. Download our Self-Compassion App
  4. Look at some of our other self-help resources, like our audio exercises or self-help books
Can self-compassion be trained?

What are the benefits of Self-Compassion?

The good news is that not only can being compassionate with yourself be trained, strengthened and grown, but that in doing so, there can be a variety of benefits. These include a reduction in painful symptoms linked to depression, anxiety, trauma, eating problems, and common difficulties like self-criticism, shame, rumination and worry. But the great thing is that it’s also associated with increases in positive emotions, wellbeing and healthy lifestyle, amongst many others! 

Take a look at the video below from Dr Neff which outlines this further