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How self-compassionate are you?

This is the second in a series of blogs about self-compassion, and asks the question: how self-compassionate are you? Most of us have a harsh self critic who sits on our shoulder, observing and telling us where we are going wrong – “Why on earth did you say that? What a total idiot you are! What must people be thinking now!”  A researcher at the University of Texas, Kristen Neff, conducted the first scientific research into the benefits of the practice of self-compassion. 

She also created widely used self-compassion scales, freely available online, where we can check out how well we score – is your internal voice kind and loving, or, as is more common, exceptionally mean and harsh?!

You can take the self-compassion test here: 

The self -compassion scale takes into account three positive factors and their three negative opposites: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, together with self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification (getting caught up in feelings and thoughts, not being able to think of anything else). Research has shown that the three negative components lead to people feeling inadequate and to them suffering. 

A response to the very real challenges of life

Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than punishing ourselves with self-criticism. Life is complex, we are balancing our own needs with those of others and we cannot always achieve exactly what we want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration, and self-criticism. Self-compassionate individuals are those who recognise that imperfection and failure are inevitable, and thus tend to be more gentle with themselves when confronted with distressing or unpleasant experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of our expectations.

Common Humanity

A self-compassionate individual recognises that challenges and personal failures are something we all share. They are part of the human experience. In this way, self-compassion helps us understand that suffering is something we all go through and thus helps negate feelings of isolation  – although it may feel like it at the time, we are not freaky or different to others – they have been there too and have felt all the same feelings. 


Self-compassion is closely tied to the practice of mindfulness; that is paying attention to the present moment and accepting our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. It is real. Negative emotions are accepted rather than suppressed, denied or exaggerated.

What does research tell us about the benefits of self-compassion?

Here are just a few benefits shown by studies:

  • Improves self-reported emotional wellbeing in adolescents and adults (Bluth & Blanton, 2012).
  • Reduces self-judgment, feelings of isolation, and over-identification (Neff, 2016).
  • Mediates the impact of body dissatisfaction and unfavorable social comparisons on psychological quality of life (Duarte, Ferreira, Trindade, & Pinto-Gouveia, 2015).
  • Can assist in the reduction of compassion fatigue and burnout in practitioners and caregivers (Beaumont, Durkin, Martins, & Carson, 2015).
  • Significantly reduces shame, irrational beliefs, and social anxiety (Candea & Tatar, 2018).
  • Reduces procrastination and perfectionism (Barnard & Curry, 2011).
  • Results in more motivation to change for the better, try harder to learn, and avoid repeating past mistakes particularly with health-related behaviors such as sticking to a diet, quitting smoking, or starting a fitness regimen (Germer & Neff, 2013).

A great introduction is to try some of these Self Compassion Guided Meditations:  Kristen Neff   Chris Germer Paul Gilbert

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.