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Self-compassion is the ability to turn understanding, acceptance, and love inward.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Compassion is the ability to show empathy, love, and concern to people who are suffering. However, many otherwise very compassionate people struggle to show this same compassion to themselves. Self-compassion is the ability to accept oneself, particularly in the face of failure. Self-compassion is sometimes presented as an alternative to self-esteem. While self-esteem focuses on favorable self-evaluation, particularly for achievements, self-compassion is a form of self-acceptance even in the face of failure. A person who scores high on measures of self-compassion might accept his or her failures without defensiveness or justification, and recognize that he or she is a person deserving of love and acceptance.

Self-Compassion and Mental Health

A lack of self-compassion can play a major role in mental health problems. For example, people going through divorce might beat themselves up over their failures in marriage and feel that undeserving of a second chance or of healing. Self-compassion, however, allows people to accept their failures, move past them, and try again.

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Therapists are increasingly focusing on the importance of self-compassion. While self-compassion is not the same as self-esteem, people who have little self-compassion sometimes have very low self-esteem. Low self-compassion can also correlate with perfectionism. People who feel they must be perfect all the time tend not to be forgiving of their own failures and may only feel worthy of love, acceptance, and respect when they achieve success. Many therapeutic modalities focus on self-compassion. For example, cognitive-behaviorists might help their clients work on reframing uncompassionate thoughts while psychoanalytic therapists might work to uncover factors in early childhood that contributed to a lack of self-compassion.


  1. Gerner, C. (n.d.). Mindful self-compassion. Mindful Self-Compassion. Retrieved from http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/
  2. Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.


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Last updated: 04-01-2015


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