Self-compassion is the ability to treat yourself with the same care and kindness as you would a good friend who was going through a difficult and stressful time.

'Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you're good enough, self-compassion asks what's good for you, what do you need?' Kristin Neff

Showing compassion to others

When we are compassionate to others, we have an intention to be with them through the difficulties they are experiencing and to alleviate their suffering and stress in some way. This can often be very different to the way we treat ourselves through the challenges of life. How often have we provided support for someone we care about and yet end up criticising ourselves endlessly for our various perceived inadequacies or shortcomings.

Many of us have been taught to put others first. But neglecting ourselves in order to do this isn't an effective or sustainable long term strategy without considering what we need to keep emotionally well. Maintaining the inner capacity to be there for our family, friends and colleagues is reliant on looking after ourselves well.

Self-compassion means you are understanding and kind to yourself when confronted with personal failings and mistakes – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?

Why we need to be compassionate towards ourselves

Feeling stressed and being hard on ourselves is very common, especially in a culture which is increasingly performance and target focused. Loneliness and isolation are also increasing in our ever digitally focused world.

If you are finding it difficult to manage the many challenges, threats and distractions of our modern world, you are not alone. With current figures of one in four people developing a mental health difficulty in any given year and the rising levels of distress within young people, many people are struggling to align life with their deeper values and needs.

A self-critical and unkind stance towards yourself when you are going through testing times will only serve to activate the fight or flight stress response, clouding the minds ability to remain calm.

Some people may feel reluctant to develop self-compassion as they might feel the notion is self -indulgent or self- pitying. But developing the ability and strength to face and manage our difficulties, without isolating ourselves from others and becoming absorbed in our own pain is the essence of courageous living. Being able to attend to your own difficulties and challenges wisely will enable you to have the spare emotional capacity to engage with others and life in a more helpful way.

According to Kristin Neff there are three key elements to compassion:


An ability to relate to ourselves with warmth and kindness.

Common humanity

The appreciation that we all suffer at times and you are not alone in these feelings.

Mindful awareness

The ability to view our difficulties with a balanced perspective so that we can keep engaging in life.

How to develop emotional resilience

There has been much interest in the effects of developing compassion within ourselves from a scientific perspective. Research has shown that people who score high on self-compassion:

  • Cope better with adversities
  • Take more personal initiative and responsibility
  • Are less fearful of making mistakes and being rejected
  • Are more emotionally intelligent, happier and more optimistic
  • Take better care of themselves physically and emotionally

The good news is that our compassionate self can be developed and enhanced through training and practice so that we become more attuned to supporting ourselves through the difficulties of life rather than sabotaging ourselves and making situations more unmanageable than they need to be.

How to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself

Be aware of your internal voice

Becoming aware of how we talk to ourselves, the tone of voice we use and language we use gives us the opportunity to move from harshness to supportive tendencies.

Noticing the good

Being able to notice and celebrate moments of the day and our good qualities is an essential part of managing and balancing difficult times.

Each day ask yourself:

  • When have I been at my best today for someone else?
  • What has been my best moment of today?

Give yourself encouragement

It is more effective to become your own internal ally and support system rather than your own harshest critic.

Written by: Kirsty Lilley

Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.

How CABA can help

We're here whenever you need help, support or information that could help improve your wellbeing. Our services are free for ICAEW members, ACA students and their families.


Kirsty Lilley