Self-compassion is sometimes misunderstood as self-pity, self-cherishing or self-indulgence, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Self-compassion is the act of offering ourselves the same care and compassion we would give to others. Giving ourselves grace isn’t always easy to do. Self-compassion meditation helps us practice, making self-compassion a habit. The research shows that when we offer ourselves loving-kindness, our quality of life significantly improves.
Self-compassion invites us to be kind to ourselves, rather than judgmental. Self-compassion reminds us that we’re never alone in our pain and suffering. We become more emotionally regulated, better able to stay calm when faced with life’s challenges, and more resilient to hardship and stress. Improved self-compassion may be the reason why meditation makes us happier.
Keep reading to learn why. Plus, learn how to practice self-compassion meditation with the help of our guided meditations and scripts.
Guided Self-Compassion Meditations
Guided meditations are a useful means of learning a new type of meditation practice. Listening to a guide can also help keep us focused on the meditation’s intention. Increase your capacity to offer yourself loving kindness by listening to the guided meditations on self-compassion below.
Self-Compassion Meditation Scripts
Meditation scripts can help guide your own personal practice, or you can use them to guide and teach others. Read the script slowly, allowing for pauses between each phrase. It may be helpful to re-phrase some parts using your own, authentic voice. Scripts can be used to make audio recordings which can then be shared with others.
What is Self-Compassion?
Leading self-compassion researcher, Kristin Neff, describes self-compassion as “being touched by and open to one's own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one's suffering and to heal oneself with kindness.”
The ability to observe our pain and suffering without judgment and then intentionally respond to it in the most appropriate way sounds a lot like mindfulness.
In fact, self-compassion and mindfulness enhance each other. To tend to ourselves with self-compassion, we must first be capable of observing our condition. We can better understand self-compassion by breaking it down into its three main components.
Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
We have all experienced the voice of the inner critic, the one who derides, blames or shames us for making mistakes, failing to meet expectations, or not getting what we want. Sometimes, we judge ourselves harshly just for being who we are. Self-compassion helps transform this inner critic into a soothing voice of understanding, acceptance and care.
Life is full of disappointment. When we fight against this, we suffer. With self-compassion in our toolkit, we can better weather disappointment with grace and emotional stability.
Common Humanity vs. Isolation
When things don’t go as we’d like them to or we fail to get what we want, we can feel isolated in our experience. When uncomfortable emotions arise, it’s easy to feel alone, as if nobody else would understand. But the truth is, our being human means we’re flawed. We’ll make mistakes, experience loss and forever be imperfect, just like every human who has come before us, and every human who will come after us.
Self-compassion encourages us to identify more with our common humanity and less as separate, disconnected individuals. Remembering we’re never alone can help soften our pain.
Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification
When we over-identify with thoughts or emotions, we become consumed by them. With no distance between ‘me’ and the thought or emotion, we’re unable to gain perspective.
We may not even notice that we’re in pain, or participating in negative self-talk. In this state, we experience great suffering and tend to act in ways that further harm ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is the antidote to over-identification. With mindfulness, we recognize emotions as they arise, with acceptance rather than judgment. We may not like what we’re feeling, but we feel it. Mindfully giving our emotions the love and attention they need is self-compassion in action.
What is Self-Compassion Meditation?
Self-compassion meditation is the intentional cultivation of self-love and self-kindness. There are several different types of meditation that can foster self-compassion.Conceptually, self-compassion and its three elements might be easy to understand. But putting self-love into practice is a different matter. Many of us have spent our lives practicing self-criticism, judgment and emotional suppression. By meditating on self-compassion, we intentionally cultivate the opposite.
There are several different types of meditation for self-compassion. Each trains the mind to help self-compassion become a habit. Primarily, self-compassion meditation enhances mindfulness. We learn to recognize when we’re experiencing a moment of pain and we become more accepting of all aspects of our humanity. Meditation for self-compassion strengthens the inner voice which speaks to us with grace, kindness and acceptance. Over time, this voice becomes louder than our inner critic.
Self-compassion meditation also helps equalize our view of self and others. We come to realize we are just as worthy of loving kindness as anyone else is, and vice versa. This equanimity serves as a reminder that we’re never alone. The entirety of our human experience is shared by others.
Benefits of Self-Compassion Meditation
When we learn to be more compassionate toward ourselves, we experience greater well-being. It’s easy to imagine how much better we’d feel if we stopped beating ourselves up for mistakes, if our negative self-talk came to an end, or if we truly loved ourselves just as we are in this moment. Research points to several additional benefits of self-compassion meditation.
Improved Body Image
Women are especially vulnerable to the suffering that arises with negative body image. Several studies have found that body dissatisfaction, shame and a sense of self-worth that is based on appearance all decrease with the practice of self-compassion meditation.
We’ve all experienced shame or guilt, but those with anxiety, depression or substance use disorders are especially prone to these painful feelings. While mindfulness can help, research points to self-compassion as a more reliable means of preventing shame.
Reduced Fear Reactivity
To learn and grow we must be open to new experiences, willing to try things we haven’t done before, and ok with making mistakes. For many, this presents an emotional challenge. Training in self-compassion can help reduce reactivity to fear and improve our tolerance for imperfection.
Meditation is a beneficial method of coping with stress and healing from trauma. Those high in self-compassion appear to recover more quickly from adverse events and may engage less in avoidance behaviors, allowing them to heal their trauma sooner.
Anxiety and depression thrive on rumination and worry. Meditating on self-compassion may help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety by minimizing what researchers refer to as ‘unproductive repetitive thinking.’
Improved Mental Health
Those with greater self-compassion score higher on measures of overall psychological health and well-being. In fact, one study found that self-compassion is an even more accurate predictor of mental health than mindfulness alone.
Increased Compassion for Others
Our ability to extend compassion toward others is limited by our capacity for self-compassion. Those who practice self-compassion are more generous, more kind to others, better able to meet the needs of others and more protected from caregiver burnout. So, far from being a selfish thing to do, practicing self-compassion benefits all others.
Self-Compassion Meditation Techniques
Just as there are several ways to practice mindfulness, many types of meditation can help foster self-compassion. Each brings greater clarity and steadiness to the mind, but also, invites in a particular attitude, that of loving-kindness.
Loving Kindness Meditation, also known as metta in Pali or maitri in Sanskrit, is among the most widely practiced meditations for self-compassion. In this meditation, we practice loving, kind and positive self-talk by offering up phrases in the form of well-wishes or prayers. Common phrases include, ‘may I be safe,’ ‘may I be well,’ or ‘may I be happy.’
The Brahmaviharas are four particular phrases that cultivate open-heartedness. Also known as the four faces of love or the four immeasurables, we can direct them toward ourselves in the form of a self-compassion meditation.
Affectionate Breathing transforms mindfulness of breath into a self-compassion practice. As we focus on breathing in and out we imagine our breath as nourishing, filling us and others with love and kindness.
The Compassionate Body Scan is similar to a mindful body scan but acknowledges all the ways in which our body serves and supports us. Extending gratitude to each part of our body helps us learn to appreciate and even love our body, just as it is.
The Self-Compassion Break is a 3-part meditation. First, we recognize we’re in a moment of suffering. Next, we remind ourselves this experience is universal. Finally, we ask ourselves what we need at this moment to feel loved and cared for.
We can practice almost any meditation with self-compassion in mind. When mindfully walking, we can focus on compassion for the body or breath, for example. When noting thoughts or emotions, we can do so with an emphasis on self-compassion.
Meditating on compassion for others can also be a good place to start. At first, we might find it easier to give than receive. Over time, each enhances the other.
How to Practice Self-Compassion Step-by-Step
Place: To meditate on self-compassion, find a quiet place where you can be relatively free from distractions.
Posture: Balance comfort with a neutral, elongated spine. Meditation can be practiced standing, sitting in a chair or on a cushion, or lying down.
Intention: Choosing an intention establishes where you’d like to put your focus. If you’re listening to a guided meditation, place your focus on the voice of the guide and their instructions.
Distractions: It’s perfectly normal to feel distracted during meditation. This too is an opportunity to practice self-compassion. When you notice your mind has wandered, forgo self-criticism or self-judgment. Instead, rejoice in the fact that you noticed and return to your intention.
Dedication: At the end of your practice, make note of any benefits you received. Close your practice by dedicating those benefits to the well-being of others.
Additional Tips for Self-Compassion
Self-care and self-compassion are not the same, but the two are interconnected. Those with greater self-compassion are more likely to practice self-care. An act of true self-care can also help foster self-compassion.
Any intentionally self-compassionate act qualifies as true self-care. Some examples include the following:
Setting Boundaries. Be mindful of where in your life you would like to say no, and give yourself permission to do so.
Caring for Your Body. Care for your body by eating well, sleeping well and exercising and body appreciation will follow.
Caring Touch. Place a hand on your heart, hold your face in your hands, or give yourself a hug. This somatic practice soothes the nervous system and helps us feel loved.
Self-Compassion Letter. If a loved one was experiencing a moment of pain, how would you respond? Write a letter to yourself using this same language.
Meditate Daily. Any type of daily meditation practice, whether explicitly for self-compassion or not, helps improve your overall well-being.
Self-Compassion Meditation FAQs
Why Should I Practice Self-Compassion?
Learning to love and accept ourselves, no matter what is central to our mental health and well-being. It doesn’t always come naturally. But we can develop self-compassion with practice.
What are the 3 Pillars of Mindful Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is the act of choosing self-kindness over self-judgment (1), identifying with our common humanity more so than our separateness (2), and being mindful of thoughts and emotions instead of being consumed by them (3).
Does Meditation Increase Self-Compassion?
Mindfulness meditation in general can improve self-compassion by helping us become more mindful when we’re experiencing negative emotions, ruminating, or indulging in a sense of separateness. Self-compassion meditation more specifically focuses on cultivating self-love.
How Do I Practice Self-Compassion?
Download a guided meditation on self-compassion or a meditation script and get started!