Self-Compassion: Improve Your Well-Being and Quiet Your Inner Critic
What is Self-Compassion?
By: Kelley Maynard, LMHC
Self-compassion refers to how we relate to ourselves during times of failure or suffering and offering kindness as opposed to criticism. There is often a tendency to be harsh on ourselves when we’ve made a mistake and it can be difficult to treat ourselves in a caring manner. Cultivating self-compassion instead of self-criticism can have a number of benefits for our emotional and physical health.
According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a leading pioneer in the research on self-compassion, there are three elements involved:
- Self-kindness. This involves being gentle with ourselves when we encounter shortcomings or painful experiences. When we approach ourselves with warmth and concern, we can feel more encouraged as we would when receiving kindness from others.
- Common Humanity. This refers to our recognition that the human experience is imperfect. We recognize that everyone experiences suffering at some point and that making mistakes is universal. When we approach ourselves with self-compassion, we recognize that we are not alone in our suffering and rather it is a shared experience among all humans.
- Mindfulness. In order to offer ourselves self-compassion, we need to be aware of our suffering. Mindfulness involves observing our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental manner without suppressing or exaggerating them. It allows us to be attentive to the fact that some type of pain or suffering is occurring so that we may respond to it.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
The practice of self-compassion can yield a number of benefits for our mental and physical health. Research has shown that greater self-compassion is linked with reduced psychopathology, including lower levels of depression and anxiety. Those who practiced self-compassion were found to have more positive affect, less negative thinking, and enhanced emotion regulation skills. The benefits can also be found in our bodies. Generating feelings of compassion has shown to be linked with triggering the release of the “love” hormone, oxytocin, and can also decrease cortisol levels. Self-compassion activates our parasympathetic or “soothe” system to help when our fight or flight response is triggered.
Barriers to Self-Compassion
For many of people, offering compassion to others who are experiencing challenges in life can come naturally. We likely approach them with warmth and reassurance through kind words and validation. When it comes to providing this same care towards ourselves, it can be challenging. We are often much harsher with ourselves than others, saying things to ourselves we wouldn’t say to a friend or loved one. Why is it so difficult to turn this kindness inward? Sometimes we can hold negative beliefs about self-compassion by thinking that it makes us weak, selfish, or even lazy. We may think that using self-criticism helps motivate us and keep us from making mistakes. However, research suggests that self-compassion actually increases our motivation and promotes learning from failure as opposed to being debilitated by it.
Ways to Practice Self-Compassion
The good news about self-compassion is that it is a skill the can be learned and practiced. Below are strategies that can help strengthen this skill.
- Treat yourself like a friend—Think about how you would treat a friend that was struggling in some way. What would you say to them? What body language or tone of voice would be used? Try applying this same approach to yourself.
- Change critical self-talk—Increase awareness around your inner critic by noticing what you say to yourself when you are feeling bad about something. Once you identify this, make a conscious effort to soften the self-critical voice by reframing observations with supportive self-talk.
- Utilize supportive touch—Physical touch can be a way of comforting ourselves during times of stress and activate our parasympathetic nervous system. Try taking deep breaths and placing your hand over your heart, or crossing your arms and giving a gentle squeeze.
Practicing self-compassion can be an effective yet challenging way to relate to ourselves. It may feel quite different if we are used to listening to our self-critical voice. Slow and consistent practice can help this feel more natural with time and yield benefits for our overall well-being. If you are finding it challenging to quiet your inner critic and offer self-compassion, Behavioral Health Partners are here to help.
Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-Compassion in Clinical Practice. Journal of Clinical
Psychology, 69(8), 856–867. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22021
Neff, K. D. (2023). Self-Compassion: Theory, Method, Research, and Intervention. Annual
Review of Psychology, 74(1), 193–218. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-032420- 031047
Neff, K. D. (n.d.). Self-Compassion Exercises. Self-Compassion. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from