Self-Compassion: A Definition


Self-compassion. We hear the term often, especially in the mental health field, but also in every day life and conversations. When you hear the term “self-compassion,” how do you define it? Below is one way we define it at BPAR.

There are three components that make up self-compassion (Neff, 2003b). These are self-kindness, mindfulness, and a sense of common humanity. Let’s break these down and take a closer look.

Self-Kindness. We can be our own worst critic, and be quick to harsh self-judgment. In order to practice self-compassion, it is important to treat ourselves with care and understanding, rather than placing judgment on ourself. Self-kindness involves actively soothing and comforting oneself through self-care. See our blog posts on self-care for some great ideas. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate self-kindness and self-indulgence, especially when we form habits that involve avoidance, or habits that may feel kind in the moment but shortly after leave us with guilt or anxiety. Take some time to identify what self-kindness means for you personally, and come up with some specific self-care activities that you can turn to in times of self-judgment.

Mindfulness. We’ve heard this term a lot lately in the mental health field! In regards to self-compassion, mindfulness allows us to be with painful feelings as they are. When a difficult emotion comes up, it can feel like that emotion defines us completely. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness allows us to feel the feeling, and acknowledge that it is a feeling — it is not who we are — instead of over-identifying with the emotion. Mindfulness also helps us in the opposite extreme of suppressing the painful feeling. This kind of awareness takes practice — even mindfulness professionals need to practice regularly. With practice, you learn to bring your awareness to a difficult feeling and notice it, allowing you to pause and create some distance from it without pushing it away.

Sense of Common Humanity. When we are experiencing a difficult emotion or being harsh judges of ourselves, we have a tendency to feel like our experience is completely unique and abnormal. In these moments it can be helpful to see our own experience as part of a larger human experience. This is not an attempt to make light of a difficult experience; instead, it is an effort to move out of an isolating state and recognize that life is imperfect.

Keeping these concepts in mind, see if you can practice some self-compassion this week. How can self-compassion be helpful to you?

Written by Katie Gorczyca, MA, Expressive Therapist
Boston Post Adoption Resources

Neff, K. D. (2003b). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102.

About Katie Gorczyca, MA, Expressive Therapist

Katie Gorczyca, MA, Expressive Therapist, is a former clinician at Boston Post Adoption Resources. She began her career with BPAR as an intern.