What is It?

What does it mean to have compassion for yourself? When you make a mistake, do you treat yourself as you would a dear friend, or do you beat yourself up with harsh criticism?

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 high school student doesn’t do as well as she’d hoped on a midterm exam. Instead of beating herself up for not being smart or studious enough, she takes a moment to breathe and remind herself that everyone has disappointing moments from time to time (common humanity). She acknowledges her negative feelings, but tries not to let them consume her (mindfulness). She thinks about how she would talk to her friends if this happened to them—how comforting and supportive she would be—and tries to treat herself the same way (self-kindness). This helps her feel more able to approach the teacher and ask about study tips for next time.

Why Is It Important?

Though the research on self-compassion and younger children is still scarce, evidence is emerging on the benefits of self-compassion for adolescents and young adults. Far from encouraging young people to lower their standards for themselves, self-compassion has been shown to enhance well-being, motivation, and more.

 

Self-compassion helps teens feel better.

  • In adolescents, higher self-compassion is associated with more life satisfaction and less stress and negative feelings.
  • Self-compassion seems to protect against the negative effects of low self-esteem on teens’ mental health.
  • Self-compassion has been shown to be a protective factor against depression, suicidality, and post-traumatic stress in at-risk youth.

 

Boosting self-compassion promotes well-being.

 

Self-compassion helps us relate better with others.

  • More self-compassionate young people are more likely to take others’ perspectives and are more forgiving; they also tend to resolve interpersonal conflict in healthier ways, especially by compromising instead of subordinating their own feelings.
  • In romantic relationships, partners of more self-compassionate people describe them as more supportive and less controlling and aggressive.

 

More self-compassionate students are more resilient.

  • Self-compassionate students tend to set goals related to personal learning and growth rather than trying to impress others. They are more likely to have higher self-efficacy, or confidence in their ability to succeed, and lower fear of failure.
  • When self-compassionate students do fail, they use healthier coping strategies and are better able to bounce back. They are also more likely to ask questions, seek help, and talk to instructors outside of class.

 

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.

Practices

Level
Duration
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Create class community by brainstorming ways to stop put-downs.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Use the Circle process to encourage self-care among staff and students in all dimensions.
Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 30 minutes
“Be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when someone’s mean to you all the time.”
–Christine Arylo