Written by S. Bowyer


    Self-compassion therapy is a recently popular area of psychology. It could be considered a new version of self-evaluating, busting through the ideals that therapists have held about self-concept and self-worth. The discipline delves to go against the grain, looking at self-honesty and change, based on self-love, rather than criticism, analysis or “I’d be better if only. . . “.


    In his book, Self-Compassion: I Don't Have to Feel Better Than Others To Feel Good About Myself, Simeon Lindstrom explains the principles of Self-compassion therapy.

    “When a reactive person is complimented, their mental balloon goes along with that breeze: they are happy, suddenly their self-worth is higher. But, by the same token, when someone insults them, their mental balloon bobs back in the other direction. Now, they are worthless. You could spend your whole life in this back and forth.”

    "Unlike self-esteem or an inflated confidence level, self-compassion is a different way of looking at yourself and others, warts and all, and a way more realistic acceptance of the way things are," he writes.


    Self-compassion seeks to gain personal comfort via internal factors, rather than outside influences. Self-esteem programs often centre on social or constructive experiences that are designed to create pleasureable activities or comments to the person to boost their confidence. This is suitable often, but the risk is that the person could then gain a lot of negative attention which erodes the positive examples. Instead, self-compassion seeks to teach people to treat themselves better, understand their traits as shared traits among humanity, and be mindful of their judgments.

      “The self-compassionate person doesn't look to others for validation. Instead, they seem to generate their own self-worth, enjoying being who they are, filled with the courage to face life without needing to be perfect," Lindstrom states.

     "Self-compassion is turning this kindness to ourselves. It's ironic that many times, people who treat others with acceptance and tenderness can't seem to summon up those same feelings for themselves."

     Did you ever notice when a friend runs late, we are very accepting of their apology, often telling them it wasn’t that late, or there was no need to feel bad. Yet, when we are running late for something we reprimand ourselves and ruin the first part of the occasion because we’re busy telling ourselves off in our head?

     In his book he shares some examples and exercises to explain self-compassion and how to work towards the ownership of it. The text is easy to read, very honest, and casual enough anyone can enjoy reading it -- with or without training in psychology. One section seeks to compare the difference between self-compassion training and conventional self-esteem buillding programs, and why they could be more effective in treatment.

     Self-compassion's leading researcher, Associate Professor Dr. Kristen Neff, states that self-compassion runs on three primary tasks:

1. Self-kindness. By learning to accept our faults, imperfections and limit self-criticism, we are able to live with our mistakes better. Instead of feeling the sky is falling because something went wrong, or judging ourselves as a lost cause, as a self-compassionate person we can be more gentle on ourselves and realise we won't always get what they want, and this was just one of those times. There is more sympathy, kindness and emotional equanimity because reality is understood as being beyond our control.

2. Common humanity. Instead of feeling isolated or imperfect because we doesn't have something, or are unable to do something, self-compassion therapy teaches that it's just a common occurrence in humanity. Whatever it might be doesn't matter; it's understanding that all human gets disappointed, can't do certain things, and are made imperfect. It's just something that happens -- it's not inferiority.

3. Mindfulness. Self-compassion teaches balance, where negative emotions are understood, but not suppressed or exaggerated. They are expressed and given openness and clarity. Negative thoughts  can’t erode the self-concept or experience of life, as we instead observe mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of being non-judgmental, focusing more on observance towards feelings and thoughts rather than being reactionary.


     Dr. Neff runs workshops to educate about Self-compassion. Her website, self-compassion.org, gives out free resources, such as scale tests, guided meditations, and exercises to start you on your self-compassion journey. Some of these are writing activities, some roleplays, and others listening activities.

     The general consensus is the change in focus. Self-esteem works from external influencers, whereas self-compassion operates from internal understanding of the self. As a direct example, let's say you are a good swimmer. How do you know that? In self-esteem based models, we would say something like,

     "I'm a better swimmer than everyone in my class. They can never catch me. I'm the best, best, best!"

     In a self-compassion model the thought would be,

     "I'm a great swimmer. I can reach the finish line in 50 seconds which is 10 seconds faster than my record last year. I've been working really hard."

     While both are confident and suitable thoughts, what happens if you had a leg injury and swam badly in an important swimming event? If you were based in a self-esteem thought process, you might suddenly feel you've let people, are unworthy of admiration because several people swam faster, or you might decide to quit the team until your leg injury heals -- because you're failing anyway. Whereas, in a self-compassion perspective you would call yourself on it honestly:

     "I still held my 50 second record for three months. It was unfortunate I hurt my leg, but it will improve in time. Even if I don't heal completely, there's still opportunity to get as close as I can to my best again. I should concentrate on getting better."

     Lindstrom offers a list of reasons why Self-compassion based self-concepts outlast self-esteem based theorems.


Self-esteem Self-compassion
 Relative -- you feel good COMPARED to someone else feeling bad.  Absolutely -- you feel good, end of story.
 All about competition. Feeling valuable only when ranked against others (or even an older version of yourself.)  All about common humanity. Your value is neither undermined or enhanced byt he value of others.
 Conditional  Unconditional
 Reduces our empathy for others -- compassion is "zero sum"  Enhances our empathy and compassion for others
 Is elite and exclusive, only exceptionalism and uniqueness is valuable  Is inclusive, all humans deserve to feel self-compassion
 Too much can lead to narcissism, vanity and self-absorption  The content of "too much self-compassion" is meaningless
 Self-improvement comes from external sources, from fear and shame  Self improvement is internal, proactive, and aspirational
 Flaws are not part of the picture, so are ignored or denied  Flaws are part of reality and accepted
 Idealistic  Realistic


      As a starting point, Self-compassion can start as a series of sayings or affirmations to yourself, expressing the understanding that some traits are significant to only you and shouldn't be held accountable or used as reasons to beat on yourself. Phrases might include comments such as, 

     "I have always been short, but that's just how I was created."
     "I can't sing at all, and I'm okay with that."
     "The scar I have from my operation is big, but I'm not the only person in the world who has a scar."
     "I'd like to dance but I just have no rhythm. I'm going to try anyway because it feels good."


     Self-compassion is a somewhat unique area of research currently, however many resources and papers have been published. For more information, check out Dr. Neff's website, self-compassion.org, or the Self-compassion book titles at your local book store. Both Self-Compassion: I Don't Have to Feel Better Than Others To Fel Good About Myself by Simeon Lindstrom and Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself by Dr. Kristen Neff are available in paperback and e-book editions.




  • No comments found