Mindfulness and Self Compassion

How is mindfulness related to self-compassion?

Mindfulness is commonly defined as bringing one’s attention on purpose to what is happening in the present moment in an accepting, non-judgmental way. 

Mindfulness has been incorporated into modern-day psychological theories through the so-called third wave therapies which include DBT, ACT, and mindfulness-based therapies. I use many of these with my clients to treat anxiety and depression. The green links will take you to pages that describe more information about these interventions and ideas. 

Mindfulness can be practiced daily through a variety of interventions including meditation. Mindfulness has been shown to assist with anxiety and depression, physical health, pain and stress and more. Mindfulness is a tremendous skill, very beneficial and a foundation for beginning to understanding how your mind is creating anxiety and depression and other problems in your life. 

Self-Compassion, however, is an even more powerful tool that can help you heal from anxiety and depression. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion as having kind and understanding attitude towards the self in times of personal failure or emotional pain. Self compassion, like compassion, requires you to want to wish to alleviate your pain and suffering. Learn more about self compassion here. Self compassion is made up of mindfulness, common humanity and self kindness. 

Most of us need to learn how to be self compassionate. Self compassion isn't easy to learn but is a skill that can be practiced and cultivated in a variety of different ways. Journals, visualizations, exercises and meditations can be incorporated into your days to begin to build self-compassion. Find some ideas here. One of the main reasons we have difficulty being self compassionate is that we have a hard time being mindful enough to recognize when we need it. 

To open our heart in response to our suffering, we first need to be mindful and aware of our suffering. 

One of the reasons we are unaware of our pain and suffering is that we are wired to move away and distract ourselves from it. But offering ourselves kindness and compassion when we need it has great benefits, and ignoring it causes us to become sick and lead our lives unproductively, so it behooves us to learn this skill.  

Mindfulness is precondition  for self compassion.

What are some of the similarities between mindfulness and self compassion practices?

  • Both mindfulness and self compassion are ideas that are pulled from Buddhist psychology. 
  • Both practices involve turning towards our diffiuclt thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions as a strategy with acceptance rather than avoidance and distraction.  
  • Both decrease the struggle, stress and reactivity that we naturally have to distress. 

Mindfulness can be practiced at any time and with any experiences, but self compassion is usually practiced when you are experiencing challenging thoughts and feelings

Becoming mindful and recognizing our suffering is the first step to mastering self- compassion. So how to we do it? Just when might we be suffering, other than the obvious times?

When thinking about our own difficulties, every moment  where happiness, peace, and calm are absent can be considered a moment of suffering. These are moments which require recognition, and later, kindness towards ourselves. Normally, we will brush over these experiences, and ignore them. Mindfulness and self compassion allow us to turn towards them, experience our emotions, and make wise choices about how to handle them.

Consider these situations which require Mindfulness AND Self Compassion

  • Essentially any time you are wanting something you don’t have or trying to get rid of something you do have ( a feeling or an object) can be a moment of suffering. 
  • Anytime you are thinking about something unpleasant from the past, or imagining something bad happening in the future can be a moment of suffering
  • When you are in a hurry, hurt, embarrassed, impatient, frustrated, angry, worried, bored, jealous, scared,sad or experiencing any unpleasant emotion can be a moment of suffering
  • When you are consumed with desire for something you want or you are filled with aversion for something you don’t want you are suffering. 
  • When you are reliving a painful experience from the past or worrying about a future experience you are suffering.

Because we are wired to escape suffering we are often distracting ourselves from our difficult experiences or denying them.

Being present with our difficult experiences, bringing non judgmental awareness to them, knowing you are suffering, is the first step to self compassion.

You can practice mindfulness without self compassion, but not self compassion without mindfulness. You must be aware you are suffering  to direct kindness to yourself. 


Mindfulness is directed at the experience, self compassion is directed at the experiencer

Compassion taps into Oxycontin and other hormones that are related to feelings of attachment and  neuronal networks that have to do with love and affiliation. 

SELF COMPASSION IS  LIKELY A STRONGER PREDICTOR OF DEPRESSION, HAPPINESS, LIFE SATISFACTION, and PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL BEING THAN MINDFULNESS

Consider a few of these facts:

  • Parents of special needs children who have higher levels of self compassion are less stressed. They express more life satisfaction and hope
  • Self compassionate people have less fear of failure and when they fail they are more likely to try again
  • Self compassion promotes health related behaviors such as quitting smoking,  dieting,exercising and seeking medical care when sick
  • Self compassion is associated with forgiveness
  • Self compassion is associated with  a more positive body image
  • Self compassion is associated with better coping and increased resilience 
  • Self compassion is associated with better perspective taking
  • Self compassion is associated with better desire to take responsibility for mistakes

These facts go on and on. It's March of 2020 and there are well over 4000 new research studies this year published about the benefits of self compassion. Learning the skills of mindfulness and pairing them with self compassion is just about the best thing anyone can do for him or herself. 

Watch Kristen Neff here describing Mindfulness and Self compassion here

You may also be interested in these other pages on self compassion,how to be more self compassionate,  what is mindfulness meditation, and more about acceptancecomponents of mindfulness, mindfulness in therapy, and mindfulness in psychology.

Learn about compassion here and compassionate mind training here. 

Feeling happy when you are self critical rather than self compassionate

Leave Mindfulness and self compassion to learn some things about happiness here:


Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation (pp. 1–40). New York: Springer. Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2012). A pilot study and randomized control