What is Self-Compassion?

By CFSSC clinician, Ricky Giesbrecht, MA, RP, CCC.


Have you heard of self-compassion? When I first heard the word in 2012, I wasn’t sure what it meant. I always thought compassion was something you showed others, but the word “self-compassion” asks you to be compassionate to yourself.

I wondered about this idea, so I did some reading. Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion and Christopher Germer’s book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion teach a compassionate way of thinking that I hadn’t thought of before.

Self-Compassion vs. Self-Esteem

One of the most important ideas I read about is the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem. When we think about self-esteem we think in terms of comparison. For example, we compare our success with other peoples’ successes. If we think we’re better than or as good as someone else, our self-esteem increases. If we don’t think we are as successful as someone else, our self-esteem often decreases. But, self-esteem doesn’t care whether we’re growing, learning or doing the best we can.

When we think about self-compassion, on the other hand, we think in terms of learning. Self-compassion doesn’t reward mistakes, but it recognizes that mistakes are bound to happen. Self-compassion means forgiving yourself for your mistakes and learning from them.

This compassionate way of thinking has had a major impact on how I think of my own mistakes and failures.

Follow these three practices to be more self-compassionate:

  1. Pay attention: be aware when you experience pain or suffering
  1. Know that you’re human: recognize that all human beings make mistakes and experience pain, failure and suffering. You are not alone.
  1. Be kind to yourself: forgive yourself for making mistakes and be kind to yourself when you’re in pain.

When parents teach a child to walk for the first time, they don’t blame the child for falling; they celebrate their child’s first steps. They don’t point out the child’s wobbly legs; they praise the child for learning something new. It’s easy to forget that we are all learners in this world and that everyone deserves kindness.

Self-compassion is a journey.

Being aware, recognizing that we’re all human, and being more kind to ourselves can help us be more self-compassionate.

If you need help treating yourself kindly, CFSSC is here to help. Contact us for more information.