Imagine going through life with a companion who has nothing but your best interest at heart. Someone who will help you make decisions so you'll be happy, healthy, and safe. Someone who, when things get tough (as they inevitably will), is unfailingly there to console, support, and lift you up.
Where is this perfect partner, you might ask? Alas, we're not talking about Mr. or Ms. Right. We're talking about you.
What Is Self-Compassion & How Does It Work?
Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself as you would treat the dearest person in your life. Think of your child, your best friend, or your beloved pet. Do you tend to treat them with more kindness than you treat yourself? Self-compassion practices can help you learn to speak to yourself and be with yourself so you become your own best companion and mentor. Research indicates there a number of benefits to self-compassion practices, including greater resilience, emotional well-being, and happiness, as well as increased productivity and decreased stress levels.
How to Learn More: Self-Compassion Trainings
So how do you learn to practice self-compassion? Enter the growing field of self-compassion trainings. These programs stem from a number of traditions, including secular mindfulness, Buddhism, contemplative practices, and academic research.
Compassion work can appear similar to mindfulness training, but it has some key differences. Researcher Kristin Neff says self-compassion is composed of three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. In Christopher Germer’s book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, he writes, “Mindfulness invites us to open to suffering with spacious awareness. Self-compassion adds, ‘be kind to yourself in the midst of suffering.’ Mindfulness asks, ‘What am I experiencing?’ and self-compassion asks in addition, ‘What do I need?’”
Below are some of the main self-compassion trainings now available. You can test them out for yourself. Just look for the Try it section.
Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC)
What it is: This empirically-supported 8-week training program is designed to help participants cultivate self-compassion skills for daily life and to respond to difficult moments in their lives with kindness, care, and understanding.
Developed by: Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer
Best for: MSC can be learned by anyone looking to live happily and be free from suffering.
Research shows: One randomized, controlled trial showed that MSC significantly increased self-compassion, compassion for others, mindfulness, and life satisfaction, and helped decrease depression, anxiety, and stress. Improvements increased in relation to how much a person actively practiced both mindfulness and self-compassion each day.
Try it: Listen to 7 self-compassion meditations from Kristin Neff and some formal and informal practices from Christopher Germer.
Learn More: Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
Compassion Cultivation Training© (CCT)
What it is:An 8-week program designed to develop the qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness for oneself and others that integrates traditional contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research on compassion.
Developed by: A team of contemplative scholars, clinical psychologists, and researchers at Stanford University, let by Thupten Jinpa, the principal English translator to H.H. the Dalai Lama since 1985.
Best for: No previous meditation experience is necessary, and anyone who wants to cultivate compassion for themselves and for others can learn it, including parents, caregivers, educators, healthcare professionals, therapists, executives, public servants, and more.
Research shows: In a 2018 study, people practicing CCT showed significant improvements in psychological well-being (decreased depression and stress, increases in life satisfaction, happiness, mindfulness, and self-compassion) and compassion skills. CCT has also been studied for its impact on health-care workers. The results of the study found that CCT may be helpful at improving several aspects of health for providers, such as self-reported mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion toward others, and interpersonal conflict—and that it may promote mental health resilience, improve patient care, and be helpful in burnout prevention.
Learn More: Compassion Institute, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University
Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT®)
What it is: CBCT is a method for cultivating greater well-being through the use of reflective practices. It stems from a practice called lojong in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, which translates to “mind training.” This secular practice works to make compassion become a spontaneous response. The mind becomes more altruistic and it helps develop a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness.
Developed by: Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi at Emory University
Best for: Educators, social workers, medical and mental health professionals, and others looking to reduce stress, build resiliency, and improve relationships
Research shows: In a 2012 study, participants that practiced CBCT had increased activity in right amygdala response, which was significantly correlated with a decrease in depression. Research suggests that the effects of this training on emotions might transfer to nonmeditative states.
Learn More: Emory-Tibet CBCT
Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living (MBCL)
What it is: A training program with exercises for cultivating compassion for people who wish to learn how to deal with pain, stress, or suffering, in whatever form it presents, whether its physical, mental, emotional or relational.
Developed by: Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher Frits Koster.
Best for: Therapists or those receiving mental health care, or anyone experiencing stress.
Research shows: One study found that those who practiced MBCL had decreased levels of depression. Another pilot study showed a significant increase in mindfulness, self-compassion, reassuring self, and satisfaction with life, and a significant decrease in self-hatred.
Learn More: Compassionate Living, Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)
What it is: An evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on the cultivation of compassion to alleviate suffering, particularly painful feelings of shame and self-criticism. CFT utilizes a specific series of imagery exercises and meditations known as Compassionate Mind Training, which are effective in the treatment of shame and other suffering.
Developed by: Psychologist Paul Gilbert.
Best for: Anyone looking to heal psychological conditions such as shame, self-criticism, anxiety, psychosis, personality disorders, anger management problems, mood disorders, eating disorders, smoking cessation, and more.
Research shows: One study compared the effect of compassionate thinking with other methods traditionally used in cognitive behavioral therapy and found the habitual use of self-compassion reduced negative emotions.
Learn More: Compassion Focused Therapy, The Center for Compassion Focused Therapy