representation of the daily life of a nurse going to work

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion means giving attention to your own suffering.4 

As a healthcare provider, your work is about attending to the suffering of others. But sometimes, you do this at the cost of ignoring your own suffering. 

When you have self-compassion during your hard times, you give yourself nonjudgmental understanding. This ultimately helps you to do the same for others.

Self-compassion is not:

  • Self-pity, or feeling sorry for yourself
  • Self-indulgence, or making excuses for yourself
  • Self-esteem, or boosting your mood by comparing yourself to others 

Rather, self-compassion means treating yourself with care and attention. This requires work and is most effective when it becomes a habit.

1. Recognize you are in pain

Mindfulness means “turning toward our painful thoughts and emotions and seeing them as they are — without suppression or avoidance.”5 This is just like acceptance. When you are focused on your thoughts or feelings, you can no longer see them for what they are — i.e., just thoughts and feelings. You let them consume you. 

Practicing mindfulness helps you see yourself clearly and not confuse your negative thoughts with the person you are. For example, instead of saying “I am such a loser” you might say “That was an honest mistake I made.”

2. Know you are not alone

Everybody has experienced suffering. It’s part of the human condition. Recognizing this lessens your hurt by helping you realize you’re not alone in your experience.

3. Practice self-kindness

It’s easy to be hard on yourself — that trap captures many of us. In fact, research shows that people are often more critical of themselves than of others they don’t even like! 

Self-kindness is about giving the same care to yourself that you give to others. Just like you wouldn’t be harsh to a friend who’s made a mistake, self-kindness asks you to do the same for yourself.