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  • Lesley Nightingale

Self-Compassion Made Simple

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

“Can I accept myself as I am?”

“Can I give myself permission to feel?”

“Can I be patient?”

Do you speak to yourself this way? Or are these words and thoughts so foreign and out of reach that there is no way you could imagine them applying to you?

You are not alone!

Self-compassion is hard for most people. Generally, clients say it feels strange, awkward and makes them feel vulnerable. Highly self-critical words, phrases, and actions may feel more accessible. A strong inner critic can protect you from the uncomfortable feelings of worry and fearing of the unknown and a sense of hopelessness or helplessness.

Self-compassion often feels out of reach.

Pause for a moment and take notice of your inner dialogue. Do you hear yourself thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why can't I get anything done? Why do I always lose control? Should I be doing more?”

When I ask clients if they would put those questions to a loved one, a friend, or a professional colleague, the answer is often met with a slumped posture, a dropped head, a deep sigh, some tears, and a “no.”

It is much harder to feel compassion toward yourself than someone else. This is a sticky point for everyone, including your loved one, friend, and professional colleague. I know it is a sticky one for me!

The truth is, life is not easy. Loss, disappointment, and suffering are things we will all encounter at some point.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is a way of relating to the self in times of distress. The more critical or blaming our inner voice is, the harder it is to move through these challenging moments. There are three key components to self-compassion:

Kindness toward self. Self-compassion exists when kindness and non- judgment are directed inward in times of suffering. Over time, inner dialogue and self-talk can be recognized and become kinder and more compassionate. For example, “I am so incapable” may be replaced with “I am trying my best, " which is enough.

Recognize our common humanity. Compassion calls for recognizing that negative emotions are shared human experiences. All humans have flaws and vulnerabilities; while it feels isolating, suffering is universal.

Mindfulness. Self-compassion needs present-moment awareness of how much one identifies with their difficult circumstance.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

Accepting our imperfections can help us change our inner voice to one that is more supportive and compassionate. This will allow our body and brain to make more feel-good chemicals than ones that create stress and signal safety to our body.

  • Self-compassion helps us normalize shame and self-criticism and find comfort in taking responsibility for our actions.

  • Self-compassion reduces unfavorable comparisons to others, which positively impacts symptom exacerbation.

  • Reducing self-judgment and criticism is associated with higher emotional regulation and resilience.

  • Research shows those with more self-compassion feel more connected with others and have reduced symptoms of pain, depression, and anxiety.

Barriers to Self-Compassion

Being self-compassionate is frequently equated with self-pity or being selfish. Many worry that their motivations will be reduced without self-criticism and judgment.

Minimizing our experiences is often easier than honoring our deeper emotional needs. For some, accepting love, safety, comfort, and basic needs was historically met with some cost. This makes receiving anything good feel unsafe and associates it with negative feelings or reactions. This is why offering oneself compassion may feel impossible.

  • Were you blamed and made to feel guilty as a child?

  • Did you have to obey a parent without question to avoid punishment or criticism?

  • Has someone used your needs and wants against you?

  • Were you told that needing anything vulnerable, such as a tender touch or a hug, was a sign of weakness?

Because of these learned patterns, we may feel uncomfortable with positive opportunities needed to help us heal and make a difference in how we show up for ourselves and others.

How to be Self-Compassionate: A few exercises

Good news! You can make a difference in your mental health with only minor adjustments to your daily routine:

  • Write a letter to yourself as if you were talking to a friend.

  • Journal about anything and everything; there is no right way

  • Gratitude for a few small things is soothing.

  • Take a break to stretch, drink water, walk in the park, rest, create, or change scenery.

  • Kindness statements: create them and say them to yourself.

  • Kindness activities: if they bring you joy, peace, and relaxation, do them.

  • Hug yourself, place your hands on your heart, rub your arms or face, or wrap yourself in a cozy sweater.

  • Enjoy grounding present-moment exercises such as breathwork, body scan, visualization, or yoga.

  • Say yes to your needs, even if it means saying no to others.

Through, therapy I can help you discover the source of your self-critical inner voice. This exploration increases self-awareness, allowing you to show compassion toward yourself with a sense of safety and ease.


Cuppage, J., Baird, K., Gibson, J., Booth, R., & Hevey, D. (2018). Compassion focused therapy: Exploring the effectiveness with a transdiagnostic group and potential processes of change. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57(2), 240–254.

Dreisoerner, A., Junker, N. M., & van Dick, R. (2021). The relationship among the components of self-compassion: A pilot study using a compassionate writing intervention to enhance self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 22(1), 21–47.

Hartman, D., & Zimberoff, D. (2012). The nourishment barrier: The shock response to toxic intimacy. Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 12(2). 3-26.

Nathan, D. (2023, November). Self-Compassion. Sketch.

Neff, K. (2023). Self-Compassion.

Neff, K. & Gerner, C. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. Guilford Press.

Viou, M., & Georgaca, E. (2020). Compassionate voices of clients and therapists in systemic group psychotherapy: A narrative Study. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 33(4), 422–440.

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