The Qualities of Self Compassion

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.

As I took in what I had said, I was shocked. I would never speak to anyone else like with such harshness. How could I speak to myself like that? Since then I have become far more conscious of my attitude to myself, catching myself whenever I had less than kind thoughts about myself, and replacing them 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 you have to care about yourself before you can really care about other people. 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 identified three essential elements of self-compassion:

- Self-kindness

- Common Humanity

- Mindfulness

Self- Kindness

Self-kindness means that we step away from the seemingly constant self-judgement and criticing internal commentary that we may regard as normal. Instead we begin to understand and accept our limitations. More than that, self-kindness involves actively comforting ourselves when we suffer, just as we would a dear friend. We sooth and calm our troubled minds.

Common Humanity

Although self-acceptance and kindness are important, they are incomplete by themselves. 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. Compassion however literally means to suffer with, so even if I am on my own, 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.


Minifulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what is occurring in the present moment. To develop compassion for ourselves we first have to recognize that we are suffering. We can’t heal what we can’t feel. Through the practice of mindfulness, we can adopt a more balanced perspective to our suffering. We can observe out thoughts and feelings as they are without suppress or deny them. And by mindfully paying attention to our 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. Paticipants in the course learn to:

- Practice mindfulness and self-compassion in daily life

- Understand the science of self-compassion

- Use self-compassion to live in accord with your values

- Handle difficult emotions with greater ease

- Motivate yourself with kindness rather than criticism

- Work with challenging relationships

- Manage caregiver fatigue

- Practice the art of savoring and self-appreciation

- Teach simple self-compassion skills to others

This program is designed for members of the general public. Meditation experience is not necessary to participate in MSC. All are welcome!

This course will be offered in St Leonards Sydney from 23 April – 11 June 2019, 6.30pm-9.00pm.


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