The Importance of Self-Compassion

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Paul Klee, The Twittering Machine

When a client comes for any sort of counseling or psychotherapy, I often discover how difficult people are upon themselves.  In a society that emphasizes achievement, status, almost a drive to an emotional utopia, often the reality is that people become very self-critical and worry about many of the failures they feel that they should be able to overcome and the achievements they feel they should have made.

This is why I have a great interest in the third wave of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT).  The most significant aspects of self-compassion are the emphasis on the self-compassion process.  Going beyond diagnostic concepts that are often rigid and insurmountable, the self-compassion hypothesis shows it is often the harshness of the inner self critic, the absorption of many societal messages and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy that heighten suffering.

And of course it is extraordinary both within ourselves and witnessing other people, how extreme self-criticism can be.  After unfathomable difficulties or having perceptions of not meeting the musts, the shoulds, the have to dictums people become especially vulnerable to this way of thinking.  I have always been inspired by Karen Horney the 1950s psychoanalyst and anti-Freudian Rebel, who spoke about how the tyrannies of the shoulds prevent us from being our real selves, which again links to similar analysis of self-compassion.

In modern research, Van Dam, Sheppard, Forsyth & Earleywine (2011) did a review on how important self -compassion is in terms of elevating suffering in certain diagnostic concepts.  They found that self-compassion predicts up to 44% invariants of anxiety depression worry and quality of life.

I am lucky enough to live in the north-west of the UK in Manchester, near where one of the primary researchers Prof Paul Gilbert writes about the importance of the compassionate mind.  Not only are his books extremely inspiring, I also utilize these in a unique way in my therapies with clients. It is a privilege to begin to see people begin to realize how being mindful about discovering their self-compassion and questioning their self-criticisms can be the foundation of their emotional healing. 

The concept of self-compassion goes extremely well into the ways I practice, where I use counseling, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy techniques alongside mindfulness meditation-based practices for relaxation. 

Out of all of these therapies hypnotherapy is often considered the most feared and misunderstood, yet I feel this allows people to find a way to access their confidence and inspiration in imaginative ways and therefore challenge the roots of their self-criticism.  Emphasizing self-compassion in psychotherapy and hypnotherapy is a great tool that returns to the inspirations of many past cultures and wisdoms upon self, the illusive nature of things and detaching from messages that hurt us.

I wonder how at odds this may be with some of the emphasis of modern psychiatry and how often the self-stigmatising aspects of self-labeling or medical labeling of diagnosis create yet another reason to be self-loathing. 

Some of the most important therapeutic breakthroughs I’ve ever had are beginning to go into the self-criticism to break away from this inner need, anger and hurt.  In essence this process of exploration is taking away this inner self critic by being kind to the self and realizing the damage of the negative thoughts and memories that harness and amplify this self-criticism.  All of us have extraordinary times where we can berate ourselves and increase our harmful inner voice in ways which we would never do to close friends.  The extremity of these internal criticisms can be astounding as if they are ‘parts of’ people.

I wholeheartedly recommend the compassionate mind by Professor Paul Gilbert as it is a wonderful perceptive book that begins to open the great debates and importance of self-compassion in a very accessible way for all readers.  I hope I can bring the message of being kinder to the self and being self-accepting too many clients, or certainly to recommend compassion-based therapies as extremely wise, heartfelt and life changing.

Best wishes for now and keep on keeping on.

Adam Prince | Counselling | Psychotherapy | Hypnotherapy | Manchester | 0161 2355187 | 07722405823 |


Gilbert, P.  2009.  The Compassionate Mind.  Constable.

Paris, B.  1994.  Karen Horney- A Psychoanalyst Search for Self-Understanding. Yale Press.

Van Dam, N.T; Sheppard, S.C; Forsyth, J.P; Earleywine, M.  2011.  Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Vol 25, 1.  Jan, 123–130.

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