The Practice of Self-Compassion

“Through self-compassion, we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy.” – Kristin Neff
By Terri Allred

Many of us have heard about self-care as a solution to our overworked, stressed-out lives. Entire industries are devoted to promoting products and services to support us in our journey of self-care. While self-care is certainly important, there is a growing understanding that the practice of self-compassion can give us a greater ability to cope with life’s stressors.  


According to The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, “Self-compassion involves treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time—even if your friend blew it or is feeling inadequate, or is just facing a tough life challenge.” The practice of self-compassion involves three core elements.  

First, self-kindness is the practice of being as kind and caring toward ourselves as we are toward others. Instead of judging or berating ourselves for mistakes or difficult feelings, we practice unconditional acceptance toward ourselves, particularly when we are in difficult situations.  

Second, recognizing a sense of common humanity is vital to self-compassion. Pain and suffering are shared human experiences, not unique to any individual. When we acknowledge that we are interconnected with others, moments of pain and suffering are transformed into opportunities for connection with others. 

The third element of self-compassion is mindfulness. “Mindfulness involves being aware of moment-to-moment experiences in a clear and balanced manner,” according to The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. When we respond to our own suffering with mindfulness, we create a moment when we are present with our pain to feel compassion for ourselves.  


This past winter, Deb Newman, a retired psychiatrist and member of Compassionate Rochester, facilitated an eight-week discussion group to apply the principles she was learning from The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. She will be one of the facilitators of a second discussion group offered at Assisi Heights Spirituality Center this fall. She explains, “When you’re talking about self-care, people generally think about it in terms of setting better boundaries and taking care of yourself (e.g., exercise, yoga, etc.). However, both of those fall outside what you do in the middle of the moment of distress. Self-compassion is in the moment—an immediate response to stress.”  

As a lifelong member of a helping profession, Newman was particularly struck with what she learned about the difference between empathy and compassion. An empathic response focuses on identifying with the feelings of the person who is suffering. A compassionate response focuses on holding space for the person who is suffering but not taking on that suffering as your own. This distinction is particularly important for those in helping professions who often suffer from empathy fatigue because of taking on too much of others’ suffering.


Several years ago, Compassionate Rochester was formed to grow and promote a culture of compassion in our community. Catherine Ashton, the founder of Compassionate Rochester, shares, “Often, people will resonate with the idea of compassion and want to learn more about it. Their initial definition of compassion is often focused on compassion for another. The practice of self-compassion is about a deep compassion for yourself. It becomes an awakening for a person so that they are better able to be a compassionate member of our community.”


Kristin Neff, author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, suggests this three-step contemplation to practice self-compassion: Place your hands on your heart and feel the warmth. Breathe deeply in and out. Speak these words to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.


If you want to learn more about self-compassion, you are invited to join a discussion about The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, held at Assisi Heights Spirituality Center on September 9, 16, 23, 30, and October 7, 14, 21, 28. Cost is $24 and pre-registration is suggested at

Terri Allred is the SE Regional Coordinator for the Minnesota Council for Nonprofits.