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Self-Compassion in Difficult Times

Increase Your Kindness, Mindfulness and Connection Through Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D is the pioneering researcher who was the first person to operationally define and measure the construct of self-compassion. I have had the pleasure of participating in several workshops offered by Dr. Kristin Neff and would like to share with you what self-compassion is along with a self-compassion practice you could start today. I integrate self-compassion in my life and value it greatly; my hope is that this information will resonate with you and you too will integrate self-compassion into your life starting today .

Challenges and disappointments are a regular occurrence as we navigate through our lives. When we think about compassion we often consider it in relationship to others whom we notice are suffering, we feel moved by their suffering and our heart responds to their pain. Compassion literally means to “suffer with”. When we open our hearts to feel compassion towards others we offer understanding and kindness when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Allowing ourselves to be open to the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience, we can build our sense of connection when those difficult moments come up.

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others.

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. By telling yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? We can take the first step in the process of self-compassion. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing ourselves for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means we are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings and challenges.

Things will not always go the way we want them to. We will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, we will make mistakes, our limitations will hold us back from living up to our ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. Self compassion is not about complacency or giving up, we can continue to seek to improve, strive for happiness, health, excellence and even greatness. The difference here is making these efforts for change from a place of care for oneself, not because we are worthless or unacceptable as we are. Self-compassion is about having compassion for ourselves by honouring and accepting our humanness.

Dr. Neff has identified three components of self-compassion:


Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.

Common Humanity

Self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.


Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.

If you are looking to practice integrating self-compassion into your life more, then Dr. Kristin Neff freely offers more information about self-compassion including exercises and guided meditations on her website Here is one of the exercises she has developed which I have found helpful in my own life and I hope you will find it helpful too.

Practice: Self Compassion Break [ 5 minutes ]

Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Now, say to yourself:

1. "This is a moment of suffering"

That’s mindfulness. Other options include:

  • This hurts.

  • Ouch.

  • This is stressful.

2. "Suffering is a part of life"

That’s common humanity. Other options include:

  • Other people feel this way.

  • I’m not alone.

  • We all struggle in our lives.

Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest or adopt a soothing touch that feels right for you.

Say to yourself:

3. "May I be kind to myself"

You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:

  • May I give myself the compassion that I need

  • May I learn to accept myself as I am

  • May I forgive myself

  • May I be strong

  • May I be patient

If you found this information helpful, learn more at or through purchasing Dr. Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion or her workbook The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer: The seeds of self-compassion already lie within you—this workbook will help you uncover this inner resource and transform your life.

Written by Amy Capern, Clinical Counsellor and Registered Psychotherapist-Qualifying


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