What have been the emotional, physical and social consequences of not being compassionate with yourself?

What if you became the love of your life? Would that make it easier to prioritise your wellness and wholeness?

This article by Registered Nutritional Therapist Kaysha Thomas discusses the role of self-compassion in trauma recovery. Ways to limit self criticism and shift towards being kinder to yourself.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is the act of turning the compassion we give to others inward. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can limit a person’s capacity for self-compassion. This lack of self-compassion is often characterised by an inability to recognise one’s own pain and suffering. Dr. Kristin Neff, a key researcher in self-compassion, describes it as a balance between increased positive and decreased negative self-reaction during times of personal hardship. Nurturing and expanding self-compassion play a significant role in healing from trauma.

What Self-Compassion is not…

Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Self-pity usually ignores the connections that exist between other human beings. This leaves an individual feeling alone in their suffering when in fact it’s normal for humans to suffer at times (that’s not to say it is fair). Self-compassion allows us to step back and take a more balanced or objective perspective. As you will see as we discuss the three core components in the next section, self-compassion does not promote allowing ourselves to be consumed by our emotional states.

Mistaking self-compassion for self-indulgence is another common misconception. Most people fear that if they are self-compassionate, they will let themselves get away with anything. Self-compassion allows us to work towards long-term happiness and wellbeing. It doesn’t advocate engaging in habits that cause harm in the long run (e.g., not taking responsibility, drug and alcohol abuse).

Why is compassion important in trauma recovery?

Self-compassion can help shift us from the survival mode of fight-or-flight and increase our ability to feel safe. A high level of self-compassion has been associated with psychological well-being, while a low level of self-compassion has been associated with an increase in mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

fight or flight

Although research on this topic is still in its infancy, there is evidence that treating oneself with compassion can help reduce the feelings of shame suffered by people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus feelings of common humanity, kindness, and mindfulness can replace feelings of self-hatred, isolation, and emotional avoidance (Thompson & Waltz, 2008).

3 Core Components of Self-compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff is an associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research. In Dr. Neff’s construct of self-compassion, she names three core components of self-compassion.

Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment

Compassion towards oneself involves understanding and accepting one’s suffering, failures, and shortcomings rather than ignoring them or berating oneself. The self-compassionate person understands that imperfection, failure, and experiencing life difficulties are inevitable, so they are kind to themselves when faced with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of expectations.

Common humanity vs. Isolation

In essence, being “human” means being mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. It is, therefore, part of self-compassion to recognise suffering and inadequacy as part of what all humans experience, not something that “only happens to me.”

Mindfulness vs. Over-identification

The ability to develop self-compassion also requires that we approach negative emotions in a balanced manner, so that feelings are not suppressed or exaggerated. Using mindfulness tools, we can observe our thoughts and feelings as they are without suppressing or denying them. It is impossible to disregard our pain while still feeling compassion for it. Mindfulness also requires us not to become “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we don’t get overwhelmed by negative feelings.

3 Ways to Practise Self-Compassion

After so many years of harsh self-judgment, the act of treating ourselves kindly can seem like a foreign concept. Below are three ways that you can develop a self-compassion practice.

Pausing to notice moments of suffering

To give ourselves compassion, we have to first acknowledge when we are suffering. We often overlook feelings of shame, loneliness, sadness and frustration as moments of suffering that can be met with compassion. When we experience these feelings, we often focus on the events and emotions that surround the feelings, ignoring the pain the experience is causing.

Whether or not the feelings have been caused by something we have done or not, we often launch into “fixing mode” and try to do everything we can to fix things. Albeit probably necessary, this fixing mode can also be emotionally and physically draining.

We need to pause and take a moment to recognise times when we are suffering and that even during our struggles we deserve a compassionate and soothing response. When we focus all our time and energy on trying to fix the external while simultaneously ignoring our need to recharge ourselves internally, we risk getting overwhelmed and burning out.


Finding softness

Softness can be defined in many different ways. Therapist and author Aundi Kober describes softness as paying compassionate attention to the wisdom our bodies hold. For those who have disconnected from their bodies, a common trauma response, reconnecting may take some time.

If you find focusing on a particular emotion difficult, go gently.

go gently

The following exercise shows us how to use the body as a pathway to work with difficult emotions directly. You will need to set aside around 20 minutes to go through the following process.

Settle into a comfortable seated or lying position. Try to sense where the difficult feeling is located in your body. Where is it focused? In your chest, in your stomach, in your temples? How would I describe this emotion? Tight, tingling, pulsing, pressure, burning? Unfortunately, the feelings that come with difficult emotions aren’t usually pleasant.

If all you’re experiencing is numbness, you can also bring your focus to this sensation.

After you have connected with the difficult emotion in your body, send it compassion. Acknowledge how uncomfortable it is to feel this emotion and tell yourself that you care about your wellbeing.

Imagine how you would soothe a child or a pet in their moment of suffering. Then apply that same method to soothe the area where the difficult emotion is located.

In her book Self Compassion, Dr Kristen Neff suggests repeating the words “soften, soothe, allow” throughout this process.

As you meet your difficult emotions with compassion, notice any changes in the sensations. Perhaps they feel less painful to sit with. See if you notice any shift in their intensity, tone or sensations. Regardless of what happens to the emotions, continue to give yourself compassion throughout the experience.

Once you feel ready to do so, end the process with some gentle stretches and return to your day.

Dr. Kristin Neff has a free guided meditation for this process here.

Being there for others without abandoning yourself

Many of us have been socialised to be “yes” people. If that sounds like you, practise giving yourself time to notice how it feels when someone asks something of you. Are you truly okay with this? Or is your “yes” coming from feeling too uncomfortable to say no?

A great way to create some space between being asked to do something and responding is to say something along the lines of, “That sounds interesting; let me think about it.

Activity: Write out some automatic responses that you can use to create space for you to check in with yourself before saying yes.

Think of ways that allow you to deal with a stressful situation in a way that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your mental wellbeing or your most authentic self.

Abandoning yourself and being harsh with yourself comes at a cost. What would your life look like if you created the space for all the things that make you, you?

Below are some additional resources on self-compassion. Including Dr Neff’s website which was a great resource of information for this post.

kayshaKaysha Thomas is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Instructor and mental health blogger.

She writes about mental health, self-love, nutrition and mindful movement. You can read Kaysha’s blog at www.kayshathomas.com




Neff, K., 2011. Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. Hachette UK.

Thompson, B. L., & Waltz, J. (2008). Self‐compassion and PTSD symptom severity. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 21(6), 556-558.