Being On Your Own Side: A Simple Guide to Self-Compassion

Published by Annie Barrett: 
February 15, 2022

In this blog post, you'll be introduced to the concept and practice of mindful self-compassion, a skill combining mindfulness, or present moment awareness, with the habitude of self-compassion. 

Studies link mindful self-compassion to many health and wellbeing benefits including lower stress levels, lower levels of anxiety and depression, protection against burnout and compassion fatigue, improved relationships, and positive health habits such as sticking to an exercise program and eating a better diet. 

A challenge to our general wellbeing is our brain’s built-in negativity bias. Humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to be on the lookout for and to notice and remember negative experiences far more readily than positive ones. We tend to scan for bad news, focus tightly on it, losing sight of the big picture, and then overreact to it. 

Our negativity bias makes us focus tightly on our own imperfections or perceived imperfections. 

However, we can learn to incline our brains toward more positivity. Neuroscientists have discovered that it is possible to shift away from negativity and the stress bias of the brain through cultivating positive mindfulness and positive mental states such as kindness, compassion, generosity, gratitude, awe, delight, love.  When this happens, the body relaxes, and there is an openness toward learning and growth.

We can cultivate greater wellbeing by practicing self-compassion and mindfulness.

  • Compassion is a warm-hearted concern for suffering and the desire to relieve it.
  • Compassion can be given to yourself and to others.

Self-compassion is being on your own side. 

Self compassion is treating yourself the way you would treat a friend. Bringing care to your suffering and pain makes you more resilient and this is good for others too.

According to Kristin Neff, a researcher on self-compassion self-compassion has three elements:

1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment.

2. Common humanity vs. Isolation.

3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.


When you make a mistake or fail at something, do you beat yourself up about it? Self-kindness counters this tendency so that we are as caring to ourselves as we are to others. Rather than being self-critical, we learn to be supportive. Instead of berating ourselves, we become accepting. When life circumstances are challenging, we soothe and comfort ourselves.

Common humanity

Everyone is imperfect. Everyone has challenges. Everyone suffers. It’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes and experience hardship. While the circumstances may be different, the basic human experience of suffering is the same. You are not alone.


Mindfulness is moment to moment awareness of experience in a clear and balanced way. Mindfulness helps us “be” with what is uncomfortable, challenging or painful. Mindfulness counters the tendency to avoid or turn away from discomfort and invites us to experience the truth of experience, even if it’s unpleasant. Mindfulness also helps us avoid being swept away by negativity. With mindfulness, we can stay with our experiences and respond with loving kindness. 

Self compassion has many benefits

  • Less depression, anxiety, stress, and shame
  • More happiness, life satisfaction, self-confidence and physical health

“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. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? - Kristen Neff 

Research on self-compassion

Self-compassion is also associated with healthy behaviors.  It has been shown to help people quit smoking, stay on their diets, exercise, and seek medical care when needed.  

Self-compassion has been shown to protect caregivers from burnout and compassion fatigue, and to increase satisfaction with one’s caregiving role.

Self-compassion Inquiry: How do you treat a friend? How do you treat yourself?

Think about a time when you’ve had a close friend who was struggling. How did you respond to your friend? What did you say? What did you do?

Think about a recent time when you were struggling? How did you respond to yourself? What did you say to yourself? What did you do?

Are there differences between how you treat a friend and how you treat yourself?

Self compassion is not the same as self esteem.

While both self-esteem and self-compassion are linked to psychological well being, they are different. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer discuss this in their book: The Mindful Self-Compassion workbook. They explain that self-esteem is often equated with feeling special and the desire to see ourselves as better than average. Here are some differences between self-compassion and self-esteem.

  • Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of one’s self-worth. 
  • Self-compassion isn’t an evaluation. It is simply relating to who we are in whatever circumstance we’re in with kindness and acceptance.
  • To have good self-esteem, you may feel like you have to be better than others.
  • Self-compassion is an understanding that we’re all imperfect.
  • We may have great self-esteem when we succeed, but suffer poor self-esteem when we fail.
  • Self-compassion isn’t contingent on success or failure, but is a constant source of support.

Offering self compassion to yourself

With compassion, become aware of any challenges you are facing right now? What feels tender? What is painful?

What does being on your own side look like for you?

What words of kindness might you offer yourself right now?

Ideas for building self-compassion

  • Take the self-compassion test by Kristin Neff:
  • Keep a self-compassion journal. Journaling is a productive way to express and process emotions and can enhance both physical and mental wellbeing. You can use your journal to make sense of challenges using the tools and ideas of mindfulness, kindness and common humanity. 
  • Learn more about self-compassion here.