The Big Ideas

  • We all mess up; we’re all imperfect; and yet we all deserve compassion from others and from ourselves.
  • Self-compassion can reduce stress, increase productivity, and boost overall happiness.
  • Until one can be truly self-compassionate, it is difficult to be truly compassionate toward others.

Neutrino’s Nutshell

The first step to becoming happier is to stop beating ourselves up. Too often, our emotions are on a roller-coaster ride from positive self-talk to despair. A compassionate view of ourselves takes us off the roller coaster altogether.

What is compassion, anyway? To be compassionate towards other people is to recognize their suffering and connect your heart with theirs. When we notice the pain in others, we feel an urge to provide kindness and assistance in order to lessen their suffering. That desire to exhibit kindness or the feeling of tenderness toward another human being, is compassion.

Self-compassion is challenging. We might excuse another person’s mistakes because we know the specifics of their life difficulties. For ourselves, we hold higher expectations and enact harsher penalties for falling short. We might find it hard to believe that we, too, are deserving of kindness. But if we are human—and indeed, all of us are—then we are inherently worthy of compassion.

Self-compassion is a key to emotional resilience. In other words, hopeful and positive rather than anxious and depressed. Although everyone endures negative emotions, people who are resilient find that these emotions are not as persistent or frequent. Mindfully interacting with our emotions in a compassionate way can generate the ability to bounce back from negative experiences.

The author distinguishes self-compassion from self-esteem, which can be a misleading and even harmful concept. Self-esteem is supported through external feedback, such as praise. True self-esteem, however, only comes from mastering a skill. In contrast, self-compassion is an action that we can offer ourselves regardless of our accomplishments, making it a key internal response at times when we are very aware of our flaws.

Self-compassion is particularly important for parents. Faced with daily frustrations and many opportunities to berate themselves, parents need a balanced and kind self-perception in order to be emotionally healthy. What’s more, children will be happier in the long run if their parents are able to model self-compassion. Children who grow up witnessing compassionate self-talk will become adults who are able to treat themselves—and others—with compassion.

Parents might wonder how they can use self-compassion with their children while also upholding the boundaries of discipline. The key is to focus on the child’s behavior, rather than his or her quality of character. Then the child can understand the nature of their misbehavior without taking on a negative belief about their core self.


“By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. At the same time, self-compassion fosters positive mind-states such as happiness and optimism.”

IMEO (In My Eudaimonion Opinion)

This book provides a balanced view of compassion, in conjunction with practical exercises that help the reader put self-compassion concepts into action. Parents, teachers, and adults in general will find this book helpful as a personal development tool to increase life satisfaction. Many of the concepts introduced in this book are also appropriate for interested teenagers.

Take Action, Humanoid!

The following steps will help you practice self-compassion:

1. Pause. The next time you make a mistake, whether large or small, pause for a moment to notice what kind of thoughts you are having about yourself. Is the language of your thought harsh or critical? Is the tone of your thought unkind or abusive? Consider what you might say (and how you might say it) to a beloved friend or child, and compare that to your own self-talk.

2. Comfort yourself. Picture a loving and wise person who is meaningful to you; this could be a religious figure, a favorite person from your past, or an imaginary person. What would this figure say to comfort someone who was in pain? Carry this image in your mind’s eye as you go about your day, and call on it as needed. Let your inner loving person be the one to speak to you during times when you would normally be critical of yourself.

The Deets

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
Author: Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
Publication date: 2011 (305 pages)

2 thoughts on “Self-Compassion”

  1. “For ourselves, we hold higher expectations and enact harsher penalties for falling short.” Yes! Does anyone else find that the most compassionate people and the people willing to help and take care of others are often so hard on themselves? I wonder if research has been done examining why self-compassion is so difficult?

    • Court- I have found the same thing to be true! Kristin Neff (the author of this book) has actually commented that people view self-criticism as necessary to “keep themselves in line” and that if they are self-compassionate, they will start a pattern of making excuses for themselves and not assuming responsibility. Not true though, as according to this book self-compassion increases productivity and prevents procrastination!


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