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Self-compassion is like a super-power and anyone can have it: Debunking the myths of the best gift y

Several years ago, when I first heard the term "self-compassion" during a time when I was feeling burnt out, I had the image of dropping all my responsibilities, taking off to a remote, luxury resort for three months, indulging in fancy food, massages, and doing yoga on the beach everyday.

While we wish this were possible, it's likely not a reality for many of us to go on a lavish vacation every time we feel stressed. But what about small moments of (realistic and feasible) "mental vacations"? Acts of self-compassion that take little time and don't have to cost a dime, AND bring immediate and long-term relief from anxiety, stress, and depression? What if it could also heal deep-seated wounds from the past? No side effects like you'd get from medications? No weight gain like you'd get from emotional eating? Now that's something that most of us can sign up for!

You don't have to be a monk, shaman, or seasoned yoga teacher to practice self-compassion. You just need an open mind, embrace the idea that it's a practice rather than a destination, and a little bit of courage, which everyone already has in them.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the pioneers, experts, and researchers on the emerging field of self-compassion, the definition of self-compassion is "Concern with the alleviation of suffering and the motivation to do something about it." In this context, "suffering" is "any negative emotional experience, big or small, justified or unjustified, self-inflicted or not." All hurt matters: Respond to every moment of hurt with warmth, tenderness, caring, and concern.

The main components of self-compassion are:

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment

  • Take a warm, understanding approach to criticism.

  • Active self-soothing and self-comforting. Ask yourself, "What do I need in this moment?" Go through the motion of giving yourself what you need.

  • Acknowledge a weakness or pain, even when you've made a mistake, without harsh judgment.

  • Accept yourself as an imperfect human being.

  • Forgive yourself.

2. Common humanity vs isolation

  • When something has gone wrong, if you think "this shouldn't be happening" and this experience only happens to me and no one else, it creates isolation, self-pity and separation.

  • Instead, common humanity is about embracing imperfection and that is what unites us. We all suffer from similar experiences.

3. Mindfulness

  • Paying attention to what's happening in the moment, as it's happening, and accepting it.

  • You can feel a difficult emotion without pushing it away and exaggerating the story behind the emotion.

  • Know it's a feeling and the feeling itself can't hurt you.

  • Know that the difficult emotion will pass.

This all sounds great, but it's common to have many misconceptions about what it is. Here are some myths about self-compassion:

Self-compassion is:

  • Self-pity

  • Weak

  • Selfish

  • Self-indulgent

  • Making excuses

  • Undermining motivation

Reality: Research on on acts of self-compassion suggest that self-compassion is a source of strength and resilience that can actually help you navigate set-backs, road-blocks and fear. It promotes the courage to accept or take more personal responsibility for your shortcomings in a safe way and make amends. It allows us to make improvements without beating ourselves up. We become less afraid of failure and continue to try despite our imperfections.

It's normal to have some hesitation to try a new approach, especially when you've been responding to stress differently for most of your life. Sometimes it seems easier to do what's familiar than what's better for us in the long run. This common fear can be mitigated if you can let go of self-judgment, the need to achieve a specific outcome, or feel like you have to do it perfectly. "Perfect self-compassion" is an oxymoron! As you'll see in the example below, incorporating self-compassion into everyday life is not as hard or scary as it might seem.


Imagine that a good friend of yours has been excited to go on an overseas trip for months now, but is having trouble getting a ride to the airport next Wednesday at 5 a.m. Out of the goodness of your heart, you offer to pick her up and give her a ride to the airport. She gratefully accepts! You put the event on your calendar, and, being the amazing friend that you are, even plan to get her pastries (her favorite kind of breakfast) on the morning of so she'll have something to eat on the flight.

Next Wednesday morning comes around and you get a call at 4:00 am from your friend who is waiting at her house and wondering if you were planning on arriving soon. You're groggy, still lying in bed, in your pajamas. You check your calendar and your heart starts to pound. You accidentally put the flight for the wrong day!!! You panic and realize that there is no way for you pick her up now and drive her to the airport in time for her flight. Your friend is left with having to hire a shuttle at the last minute and nearly misses her flight.

Your initial reaction might be to:

  • Feel like a horrible friend and a failure.

  • Be afraid that your friendship with your friend is over and she will never forgive you.

  • Think you should never offer to help anyone again because clearly you're incapable of doing a even a simple thing.

  • Every time you see your friend now, you feel awkward around her. You avoid talking to her or spending time with her because you're reminded of your "failure." You grow further apart as friends.

If you switch to self-compassion mode, your response might look like this instead:

  • You take some deep breaths, check in with the sensations in your body, and allow any emotions to come up without judgment.

  • Acknowledge the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and panic.

  • Tell yourself that these feelings in response to this event are normal and OK. This was an accidental mistake, one which you did not intend.

  • Have faith that your friend is capable of forgiving you and your friendship is strong enough to withstand a snafu.

  • Acknowledge that you made a mistake and sincerely apologize to your friend.

  • Your friend accepts your apology and shares in the common humanity that she has scheduled events for the wrong time before too. After she comes back from her trip, you take her out to dinner, look back at your blunder, laugh about it, and add it to your list of funny experiences as friends.


How do you feel now compared to before the exercise? What came up for you? What was it like to just observe, ride out the waves of emotion, and not react? How might the rest of your day look now with a fresh perspective?

In upcoming blog posts, I will be further fleshing out the different aspects of self-compassion and giving tips and examples of how self-compassion can come into play when common life challenges leave us in a tailspin. Stay tuned!


In the meantime, you can take a quiz on Dr. Neff's website:

to see where you are along the self-compassion scale. This is a great way to gain some insight, an important first step along the self-compassion journey.

I'd love for this to be a conversation so feel free to contact me with any questions, comments on this topic or sharing your thoughts in the comment section below.

Be well!

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