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  • Writer's pictureAnn Manning

The Qualities of Self Compassion

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

A few years ago, while driving into the city, I realised was in the wrong lane; I was heading in the wrong direction. The words: ‘You stupid idiot!’ flew from my mouth.

I was shocked by what I had said to myself. I would never speak to anyone else with such harshness. How could I speak to myself like that? From that time I become far more conscious of my attitude to myself, catching myself whenever I began to be self-critical, and replacing the words I was using with greater sensitivity and kindness.

While most of us believe we are compassionate towards others, can we say the same about our attitude to ourselves? Truly, before you can really care about other people, you have to care about yourself. And for many of us that can be a real challenge.

Academic & researcher Dr Kristen Neff began to study self compassion some 20 years ago, inspired in part form her experience with Buddhist philosophy and meditation, and its emphasis on self-compassion. She writes:

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?[1]

Through her research, Dr Neff has identified three essential elements of self-compassion:

- Self-kindness

- Common humanity

- Mindfulness

Self- kindness

Self-kindness means stepping away from the seemingly constant self-judgement and criticising internal commentary that you may regard as normal. Instead you begin to understand and accept your limitations. More than that, self-kindness involves actively comforting yourselves when you suffer, just as you would a dear friend. You sooth and calm your troubled mind.

Common humanity

Although self-acceptance and kindness are important, they leave out an important factor – other people. I notice that when I am feeling bad it is very easy to feel isolated, that I am alone in my suffering. the word compassion literally means to suffer with, so even if I am alone, the recognition that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience goes a long way to relieving my suffering. In reality, the pain I feel in difficult times is similar to the pain that you feel in difficult times, even though our pain may be caused by very different circumstances.


Mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what is occurring in the present moment. To develop compassion for yourself you first have to recognise that you are suffering. You can’t heal what you can’t feel. Through the practice of mindfulness, you can adopt a more balanced perspective to your suffering. You can observe your thoughts and feelings as they are without suppressing or denying them. And by mindfully paying attention to your difficult emotions, they have the chance to take their natural course, to arise and eventually to pass away.

Mindful Self Compassion Course

Kristen Neff and psychologist Dr Chris Germer have developed a course called Mindful Self-Compassion, which guides participants through understanding and exercise to develop self-compassion. I have adapted this course into two accessible formats:

1. Nurturing Self-Compassion, a five week course in which you'll learn:

  • How to motivate yourself with encouragement rather than criticism

  • How to handle difficult emotions with greater ease

  • Mindfulness and self-compassion practices for everyday life

  • The theory and research behind mindful self-compassion

  • How to become your own best teacher

2. Deepening Self-Compassion, a four week course which teaches:

  • How to practice self-compassion when experiencing difficult emotions

  • How to work with shame

  • How to practice self-compassion in challenging relationships

  • How to experience authentic forgiveness for self and others

The courses are held at North Sydney Community Centre, however it is also possible to arrange a course for your community or work group.

Next Nurturing Self Compassion course begins on Saturday 4 February 2023 from 3.00 to 4.30pm and sessions are held weekly until Saturday 4 March. https://www.restoringhealth.com.au/mindfulness-courses


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