Self-compassion for the serious and skeptical

Woman holding a coffee mug

Do you roll your eyes whenever you hear the word "compassion"? Do you glaze over when you are asked to "look inward"? Do you snicker just a little bit when you hear about "living mindfully?" Then keep reading — this article is for you.

It’s easy to be a skeptic. Life is full of "real" responsibilities like work, paying bills, taking care of family, and keeping the house clean (or at least trying). In comparison, spending time practicing "self-compassion" might sound silly or self indulgent.

You may have been taught that you won’t get ahead by going easy on yourself. There is a 'no pain, no gain' mentality that some believe is the secret to success and happiness. But the reality is, there really are benefits to being kind to oneself. And that’s not just opinion. It’s the conclusion of a large and growing body of scientific study.

Results you can love from self-compassion studies

Let’s start with the U.S. military, home to some of our nation’s toughest men and women. Still, they aren't too tough to benefit from some serious self-compassion.

In one study, veterans were asked to participate in a three-month self-compassion program. The study demonstrated a decrease in stress and depression, and an increase in quality of life measures.1

Other studies have shown that:

  • Self-compassion in older adults may improve their well-being.2
  • Self-compassion activities helped women have less body dissatisfaction and body shame. They also experienced an increase in body appreciation.3
  • Self-compassion is linked with healthy behaviors like seeking medical treatment when needed, exercising regularly, and reduced smoking and alcohol use.4
  • Self-compassionate people are highly motivated and seek to change for the better.5
  • Self-compassionate individuals are described as being more emotionally connected by their romantic partners.6
  • Self-compassionate people are more likely to resolve conflicts with others in a healthy, productive way.6                                                                                                                         

These are just some of the findings across hundreds of research studies in the past ten years alone. Clearly, there are benefits to living with self-compassion.

I would try it, but I just don’t have the time

Fortunately, there are many resources that can get you started on a path to self-compassion… and you can build a practice anytime, anywhere. You don’t even need to set new time aside, but instead can try to reframe some of the things you already do. Give it a try:

1. Silence your inner critic by reframing your thoughts and words from negative to positive. When you feel an anxious tensing in your shoulders, or notice that you’re feeling fearful or worried, pay attention to what you’re thinking. If it’s negative, like “I just can’t get ahead at work, I’m not good enough,” see if you can reframe it: “I really want to get ahead, and that’s a good thing — so I’m going to pay attention to specific things I can learn and improve, and look for new support in reaching my goals.”

2. Give yourself a head start. As you’re getting ready for your day — while you button your shirt, lace up your shoes, or walk to the car or the bus — take a moment to think: what do you need today? Is it calm, rest, confidence, or reassurance? A feeling of safety? Whatever it is, you can wish it for yourself. Try saying it out loud: “I wish you confidence today,” “I wish you calm today,” or something as simple as “You are safe.”

It might sound goofy at first, but making this kind of mental change in your dialogue can make a difference — seriously.



1. Xiang, E.(2016) Mindfulness in the Military. Discover Magazine (2016). 
2. Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2014). Self-compassionate responses to aging. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 190–200. [p 190 / col 1 / par 1]
3. Neff, K. D. & Davidson, O. (2016). Self-compassion: Embracing suffering with kindness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology (pp.37-50). Rutledge. [p9 / par 1]
4. Neff, K. D. & Davidson, O. (2016). Self-compassion: Embracing suffering with kindness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology (pp.37-50). Rutledge. [p8 / par 3]
5. Neff, K. D., & Knox, M. (2017). Self-Compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Springer. [p3 / col 2/ par 2]
6. Yarnell, L. M., Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion, interpersonal conflict resolutions, and well-being. Self and Identity. 2:2, 146-159. [p 154 / par 5]


Reviewed by Kaiser Permanente Clinical Ambassadors, including Mark Dreskin, MD, Sharon Smith, LPC, and/or David Kane, LCSW. September 2018.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. 

Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage, Summary Plan Description or other coverage documents. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.