Self-Compassion for Adults
What Is It?
Self-compassion is defined as the practice of quieting our inner critic, replacing it with a voice of support, understanding, and care for oneself.
Pioneering self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as entailing three main components:
- Self-kindness—we are gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental.
- Recognition of our common humanity—we feel connected with others in the experience of life rather than isolated and alienated by our suffering.
- Mindfulness—we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.
Even for many people who value compassion for others, the idea of self-compassion may not immediately make sense. Neff explains that people often confuse self-compassion with self-pity or self-indulgence, fearing that if they’re “too soft” on themselves, they’ll never improve or achieve. But that’s not the case at all; in fact, as Neff writes, “self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks,” such as narcissism and prejudice.
A teacher loses his cool with a disruptive student. After class, instead of beating himself up about it, he reminds himself that all educators make mistakes sometimes (common humanity). He doesn’t deny how upset he is (mindfulness), but thinks about how he would comfort and advise a colleague who experienced something like this, and tries to do the same for himself (self-kindness).
Why Is It Important?
Far from encouraging people to lower their standards for themselves, self-compassion has been shown to enhance well-being, motivation, and more.
Self-compassion promotes well-being.
- A growing body of research provides strong evidence that self-compassion is related to improved well-being and reduced psychological problems.
- In terms of causality, programs to build self-compassion have been shown to increase happiness and mindfulness and decrease depression, anxiety, and stress.
Self-compassion helps us relate better with others.
- Teachers who have more self-compassion tend to provide higher levels of emotional support to their students.
- More self-compassionate people are more empathetic and forgiving of others and resolve interpersonal conflict in healthier ways.
- In romantic relationships, partners of more self-compassionate people describe them as more supportive and less controlling and aggressive.
Self-compassion makes us more resilient.
- When people are more self-compassionate, they are better able to cope with difficult life experiences.
- Self-compassion is associated with higher self-efficacy, or confidence in one’s ability to succeed, and lower fear of failure.
- When self-compassionate people do fail, they use healthier coping strategies and are better able to bounce back.
Self-compassion motivates self-improvement.
- People who are more self-compassionate are more likely to take responsibility for their past mistakes, while at the same time being less upset by them, and show more motivation to improve in areas of weakness.
- Self-compassion can help reduce procrastination and alleviate the stress associated with it.
Self-compassion helps us stay healthy.
- Self-compassion training has been shown to lead to better immune functioning and healthier physical stress responses.
- Self-compassion helps people stay motivated to exercise, quit smoking, and maintain healthy diets, while also relating to healthier body image.