What’s the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion anyway?  Many self-help books of the 80s and 90s stressed the importance of self-esteem…which is a good thing, right?  Absolutely! We know that having high self-esteem is so much better for your mental health than having low self-esteem, but what if there was something even more effective than healthy self-esteem?

According to Dr Kristin Neff, there is, and she has dedicated a whole heap of her life’s work towards researching it.

Self-compassion, or more precisely mindful self-compassion has been scientifically proven to improve emotional resilience and life satisfaction whilst decreasing stress, anxiety and depression.  In fact, since Dr Neff pioneered the research in 2003, there has been over 1500 studies undertaken.

The three components of self-compassion are:

  • Kindness – to one’s self
  • Common humanity – the sense that we are all in this together and negative emotions , stress and hard times are common elements of being human.
  • Mindfulness – the ability to just ‘be’ with negative feelings rather than suppressing or denying them

Based on the above, the concept of mindful self-compassion can be summarised as


Why does self-compassion trump self-esteem?  Well, self-esteem is dependent on circumstance and can fluctuate accordingly.  You see, self-esteem creates comparisons.  If we’re better than average, we can feel good about ourselves and increase our self-esteem.  Taken too far, this can lead to perfectionism, and at the extreme, narcissism (think of a particular world leader…clue in the title).

Then, when we see ourselves as falling below average, our self-esteem and feelings of self-worth take a hit accordingly.  Self-compassion, however, remain stable despite circumstances and events.

So how do we increase our self-compassion?  Like most habits, the first step lies in awareness – catching the negative self-talk or the ways we beat ourselves up.  Do you ever have times when you just beat yourself up unnecessarily?  Or put unrealistic demands on yourself?   Or feel disappointed in yourself?  Well stop!

I know.  It’s not that easy, is it?  But if we start to become more aware of the way we treat ourselves, we can make more of an effort to change.  That’s where the ‘mindfulness’ component comes in.  If we can notice those feelings then address them with the next component, ‘common humanity’, we can recognise that we are just the same as everyone else on this earth.  That is, we are all human and prone to mistakes, hard times and stresses.  Once we realise that, we can direct kindness, understanding and compassion towards ourselves.

The best way to direct kindness towards yourself is to stop and acknowledge the negative emotion, perhaps even feel where it is in your body.  Then you can place your hands over that area or over your heart and feel into the emotion.  As you do this, you can remind yourself that everyone feels this way sometimes and it’s ok.  You can even talk to yourself the same way that you would comfort a good friend or a child, using soothing words and terms of endearment.

“You did your best sweetheart, and that’s all that matters.  Everyone has bad days now and then.”

The interesting thing is that when you practice mindful self-compassion, not only does it improve your own positive affect, but it makes you a much nicer person to be around and so it also improves your relationships.

How good is that?

Definitely mindful self-compassion for the win.

The science – self-compassion.org/the-research/