Is Self-Compassion the Recipe For Optimal Health?

by Deborah Mitchell, Naturally Savvy

Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, once said that “Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

If we change the ingredients in our life’s recipe and include some self-compassion, we might be pleasantly surprised with the end results! But what is this thing called self-compassion?

What is Self-Compassion?

For some people, the term self-compassion sounds self-indulgent; that is, those who practice self-compassion are self-absorbed and care mostly about themselves. However, that is far from the truth.

Self-compassion, according to the guru of the concept, Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion and the author of several books, including Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, consists of three elements:

  • Being aware of negative feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences but not judging them.
  • Granting yourself the same kindness and understanding you would to those whom you love and care for when you experience human imperfections.
  • Recognizing that everyone is imperfect and that everyone shares a common humanness and degree of suffering.

Individuals who don’t practice self-compassion may be characterized as having feelings of isolation, unhealthy perfectionism, self-judgment, stress, and depression. When we look at these opposites of self-compassion, it raises the question, what effects could this have on physical health?

The idea that practicing self-compassion supports and promotes healthy mental and emotional well-being has been around for about a decade, and the concept has been supported by numerous research studies. However, there is a growing school of thought that self-compassion also has an integral role in physical health.

Self-Compassion and Stress

People who possess higher levels of self-compassion have a healthier response in stressful situations, according to a joint US-UK study. Rather than become upset while sitting in a traffic jam or when they have been passed over for a promotion, they dedicate less time to reviewing the situation.

This ability to bypass chronic stressful situations has a direct impact on physical health, including factors such as blood pressure, muscle tension, and blood sugar. Individuals who have a healthy control of their response to stress are less likely to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors that can affect physical health.

Other research suggests that self-compassion can enhance a person’s desire to improve or change their life. If you realize you are overweight and need to drop some pounds to improve your chances of longevity and reduce risk of heart disease, for example, a healthy sense of self-compassion can be the trigger you need to take the necessary steps to lose weight and enhance your life rather than give up and sit on the couch.

The findings of a recent Australian study suggest that self-compassion moderates the association between depression and perfectionism, two important aspects of self-confidence. The authors indicated that “self-compassion interventions may be a useful way to undermine the effects of maladaptive perfectionism,” although additional research is needed in this area.

Self-Compassion vs Self-Confidence

According to Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, self-compassion actually beats self-confidence. He noted in a recent New York Times article that “We like confidence because it feels good and gives us a sense of control.” Self-confidence makes you feel good about your abilities. However, it also may cause you to significantly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to face your limitations and to look more closely and objectively at them. For this reason, although both self-compassion and self-confidence are good qualities, experts tend to believe that self-compassion encompasses the best parts of self-confidence while leaving the drawbacks behind.

In addition, Barker notes that culture tends to encourage faking confidence without thinking about the consequences of that line of thinking. For example, if you fake self-confidence, you may actually believe the lie, which can result in unpleasant outcomes.

How to Become More Self-Compassionate

Among the key steps to take to improve your self-compassion is paying attention. When you are fully aware of your thoughts—your self-talk, whether you are judging yourself and others, if you have compassionate thoughts about yourself and others—you are better equipped to evaluate your situation, to forgive and recognize the humanness of all people, including yourself, and show yourself kindness.

It is important that you take the time to be kind to yourself; to take a walk, establish strong bond with loved ones, engage in activities that reduce stress and anxiety, nurture your spirit, immerse yourself in nature, dance, do yoga, or meditate. These and other activities can help you become more self-compassionate and fully recognize your value to yourself and the world.

Related at Care2

Image via Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Val P
Val P4 months ago

it's definitively important to change the way we talk to ourselves. I'll start today!

Winn A
Winn Adams7 months ago


Renata B
Renata B7 months ago

I always say to my client to treat themselves and react to what happens to them as they would if the situation involved their little child or an animal. The perspective is so different. Just think of a simple cold: being angry with yourself because you can't do what you had planned OR being cuddling, protective and supporting if it were someone you love and protect.

Euge L
Euge Lu7 months ago

I'm going to try it

Brad Schultz
Past Member 7 months ago

Of course! It only makes sense. As they say, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, in order to help others. To make a difference in the world, in the lives of our family and friends, we must be at a healthy optimal, our cups full with vital life force and energy. I have found walking and meditation can be a powerfully active force in your life for self care which brings greater balance, harmony and effectiveness in daily matters.
The Eastern arts offer us a healthy alternative to dealing with stress, daily pressures and a way to stay naturally balanced and healthy for higher quality living and healing. I have found some useful tips and techniques from the
eastern internal arts here:

Chrissie R
Chrissie R8 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Lesa DiIorio
Past Member 8 months ago

try to love yourself a little...

Lesa DiIorio
Past Member 8 months ago

thank you Deborah...

Olga Nycz-Shirley
Olga Nycz-Shirely8 months ago

TY. Interesting read and good reminders.