Have you ever forgotten an important deadline, failed an exam, or had food stuck in your teeth while on a dinner date with your crush?

We’re all familiar with such moments that can make us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or anxious. What usually follows the initial emotional response is the harsh voice of the inner critic, scolding you for making a mistake, labeling you as a failure, and pushing you down the spiral of self-hate and shame. The more often you engage in negative self-talk, the worse your mental health can get, eventually leading to issues such as heightened anxiety, depressive states, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and inability to regulate your emotions effectively. That’s where the practice of self-compassion steps in and counteracts the overwhelming negativity of the inner critic with kindness and gentleness towards the self.

In this blog post, we discuss the concept of self-compassion and share 3 tips on cultivating it in your daily life to support your mental health.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychologist who dedicated her life to researching the topic of self-compassion, defines it as tending to ourselves in moments of pain with warmth and understanding and describes its 3 pillars:

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgment

Usually, when we fail, make a mistake, or are in pain, all we want to do is make it disappear. While taking a painkiller might do the job in terms of a nasty headache, the same solution doesn’t apply when going through a difficult split with your partner and being heartbroken.

The idea of self-compassion is not to avoid, suppress or run away from your pain but to face it and open up to that experience with kindness, empathy, and gentleness toward yourself. Suffering is a natural and unavoidable part of your life, and beating yourself up about it will only increase your pain and further frustrate and stress you out. However, making an effort to approach it with warmth and non-judgment can make all the difference. It gives you space to be imperfect, flawed, and simply human.

Common Humanity vs Isolation

Sometimes all we want to do when we’re having a bad day is to come back home, curl up on a sofa and binge-watch Netflix. While that can help in the short term, it’s important not to isolate yourself for too long.

Let’s say you were fired from your dream job. Coming to terms with it can be incredibly difficult. You might feel embarrassed to share this news with your friends since they’re doing so well or believe no one will truly understand your situation. As a result, you become increasingly reluctant to socialize and refuse to connect with others.

Neff points out how failure and adversity are a normal part of life for all humans. We all face our own challenges. Sure, the context differs from one person to another, but the hardship of going through those rough patches is universal. Rather than focusing on all the reasons you’re different from others or assuming you’ll always be misunderstood, try opening up to a close friend about your struggle. Remember that you’re not alone.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification

Once you see eye to eye with your fears, insecurities, or painful memories, it’s vital to learn how to approach these emotions in a balanced way. Rather than overly identifying with harmful thoughts or painful feelings, mindfulness allows us to step back and observe our experience in the present moment from a distance.

While the inner critic whispers: “You will never be enough. You’re such a failure.” after being broken up with, mindful awareness helps us notice our emotions like sadness, shame, frustration, and thoughts, which pop up and pass after a while. Cultivating such an attitude strengthens your psychological resilience and supports positive well-being over time.

When in Crisis, Remember to STOP

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy that focuses on helping clients build a meaningful life following their core values through cultivating forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance, anchoring them in here and now. It does so by emphasizing the role of experience in the process of learning essential life skills.

STOP is a practical tool used in ACT therapy to help you respond more effectively when facing a crisis. The letters in the acronym stand for

S = Slow down with a quick breathing exercise.


T = Take note of your bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and surroundings.


O = Open up to your emotions with gentleness and non-judgment.


P = Pursue your values by making a decision that supports what you believe in.

Rather than jump into action hot-headed, automatically react with negative self-talk and make a haste decision you might later regret, this exercise allows you to:

  • take a step back,
  • check in with yourself,
  • re-evaluate your current situation,
  • act from a place of love and compassion.

4 As of Acceptance

Let’s say you’re angry because you lost a bet with your close friend. You’re trying to suppress and hide this emotion from others because you don’t want to look like a sore loser. Later on, when you’re home alone, you can still feel the pent-up anger – that’s the perfect moment to use the 4 As of acceptance:


At first, it’s crucial to stop suppressing or avoiding the fact that you’re angry or frustrated and take time to notice your emotional state.


You might feel the urge to rush it off, ignore it, or distract yourself with another activity. Try staying in the present moment and open up to that anger. Allow it to take place.


Now, check in with yourself, and see if you can do anything to address that anger. Perhaps you could:

  • decrease the tension by slowing down your breathing,
  • do a body scan to relax more,
  • write down your thoughts about the situation which angered you.


Even those unwanted emotions we’d rather get rid of carry important lessons and serve positive functions. They might motivate you to slow down or take action, show you your priorities in life, or communicate something important.

You can look for hidden meaning in your anger regarding the lost bet. Perhaps it’s something as simple as “I don’t like to lose”, but you can also dig deeper.

Consider asking yourself:

  • Why did this silly bet make me so angry?
  • Is it the validation of other people I care about so deeply?
  • Am I comparing myself to my friend?
  • Am I angry at myself because of my unrealistic expectations?

It can help you explore your emotional state and appreciate the lessons you can take from it instead of pushing your feelings away.

Self-Compassion Break

This exercise aims to increase feelings of warmth and kindness to yourself in the face of adversity. It’s quick, effective, and can be practiced whenever necessary.

For example, you might have a tendency to struggle with your inner critic in social situations, and right now, you’re at a party. You’re trying to connect with others, but you just made a joke, and no one laughed. It’s a bit awkward for a moment, but soon afterward, your new friends laugh it off, change the topic of the conversation and move on. Yet, that one uncomfortable moment was enough for you to drown in self-criticism and harsh statements, i.e., “This was so embarrassing! They must e thinking that I’m an idiot. Why did I even say that stupid joke? No one wants me here.”

Now imagine how differently you’d feel if you excused yourself for a moment, found a calm place, and took a self-compassion break, consisting of 3 parts:

  1. Firstly, you either think or say to yourself: “I’m in pain at this moment. This is stressful for me.”
  2. Then, you remind yourself that suffering and discomfort are a part of life, common for all humans. Some so many other people made a faux-pas in a social setting. Say to yourself: “I am not the only one to go through this struggle. It is a normal and common experience”.
  3. Finally, choose to treat yourself with grace and unconditional, radical love. Set an intention to be kind to yourself, just like you’d treat your loved ones or close friends if they were in your shoes. You can even come up with a mantra, such as: “I am choosing to be kind to myself” or “May I be gentle and patient with myself”.


Negative self-talk and the self-defeating voice of the inner critic, while common for many people, can still be tricky to handle. Remember that you don’t have to go through this mental health issue alone. Psychotherapy is an opportunity to:

  • discuss your problems with an experienced psychologist,
  • gain insight into the underlying root causes,
  • reframe your perspective,
  • silence your inner critic with self-compassion.

Build greater psychological flexibility and regain control of your life with Harbor Psychiatry today! Start by contacting us here.