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Compassion is an emotional response to the struggles of others combined with a real, authentic desire to help lessen their suffering. Although compassion is often discussed as a way to help others, we can also show compassion to ourselves, through developing self-compassion. According to researcher and author Kristin Neff, “self-compassion refers to being supportive towards oneself when experiencing suffering or pain- be it caused by personal mistakes and inadequacies or external life challenges” (p.193, 2023).

Neff says that self-compassion has three parts. These are:

  1. Self-Kindness which is acting with gentleness and understanding towards ourselves, rather than with harsh criticism or judgment.
  2. Recognition of Common Humanity is recognizing that our experiences of suffering and difficulty are not unique to us; they are part of the common human experience.
  3. Mindfulness is approaching and holding our experiences with balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.

(Source: Neff, 2011).

These three parts of self-compassion can be connected to factors that protect against suicide risk. These connections are explored in more detail below.


Self-kindness means that we are gentle and show understanding towards ourselves during difficult moments, whether those moments are caused by something we’ve done (or haven’t done) or by some external factor. Self-kindness is important, because the way that we view ourselves and our own “self-talk” can have an impact on our wellbeing, our mental health, and suicide risk. Self-kindness can influence suicide risk by supporting certain protective factors for suicide, which are factors that can reduce a person’s suicide risk.

Two protective factors for suicide are good self-esteem or strong sense of self and having effective coping and problem-solving skills. Self-kindness can help to develop a strong, positive sense of self by reducing the level of judgement someone has towards themselves when they make a mistake. Instead of responding with criticism that is often rooted in emotions such as fear or shame, self-kindness encourages a “benevolent and supportive attitude” which allows us to “acknowledge our shortcomings while caring for ourselves regardless” (Neff, 2023, p. 195). This kind of self-acceptance can empower individuals to problem solve, rather than to stay stuck in a cycle of making a mistake, engaging in self-criticism, and feeling disappointment and shame. As such, practicing self-kindness as part of self-compassion could encourage help-seeking behaviour when difficulties do occur.

Practicing Self-Kindness

One way to practice self-kindness is to take notice of critical self-talk, and to try to replace it with something that is kinder. For those that have difficulty with self-criticism, a helpful practice can include imagining yourself saying the same critical and hurtful things to a loved one. If we wouldn’t say those things to a loved one, why are we saying them to ourselves?


The original thought might be:

“Ugh, I can never stay on top of things, no wonder I made that mistake.”

but it could be changed to:

“Ugh, it feels bad that I made that mistake. I’m disappointed, but I know that I’ve been overwhelmed and that mistakes can happen. Next time, I’ll have an opportunity to do better.”

Common Humanity

Common humanity is the second part of Neff’s framework of self-compassion and involves understanding that suffering is a shared human experience. This doesn’t mean that everyone experiences the same level, type, or kind of suffering and pain in their lives, but rather recognizing that everyone will go through some kind of pain or suffering in their lives.  As Neff writes, “the triggers are different, the circumstances are different, the degree of pain is different, but the experience of imperfection is shared” (2023, p. 196).

When someone struggles to see suffering as part of a shared, human experience, they may blame themselves or others for their suffering in an unnecessary and unfair way. They may compare themselves to other people more often, and this can result in isolation and loneliness.

Similarly to self-kindness, recognizing our common humanity as part of self-compassion can positively impact mental health and may help to reduce suicide risk. It can increase a person’s sense of connection and belonging (Maricic et al., 2023), which are protective factors for suicide. The sense of common humanity can also help someone to feel less isolated and alone, which can also encourage help-seeking behaviour during challenging life moments.

Practicing Common Humanity

Practicing a Common Humanity meditation can be one way to build your skills to recognize common humanity as part of self-compassion. One example is this exercise from Greater Good in Action: Common Humanity Meditation | Practice | Greater Good in Action (

For Karyn, one of WRSPC’s Program Coordinators, repeating mantras can also be a way to connect to this shared sense of common humanity: “When I find myself struggling and thinking that I’m the only one who can be having a bad moment, I sing a line from a song and spoken word poem: ‘There will be days like this, days like this, my Mama said’. For some reason, it helps me to step beyond the story I am telling myself, and helps me to remember that everyone has hard and difficult days.”


The last piece of self-compassion that Neff mentions is mindfulness. Within self-compassion, mindfulness is the ability to hold our experiences with balanced awareness. In practice, this means accepting our experiences, including those of suffering, without ignoring, over-exaggerating, or over-identifying with it. Ignoring our suffering could look like trying to stay busy to avoid uncomfortable feelings, trying to numb uncomfortable feelings with unhealthy habits, or dismissing our own suffering too casually (e.g. “it’s not really a big deal”). Over-identifying with our suffering could mean that our difficult experiences have become a core part of our identity and how others know us, or feeling like our choices in life are completely defined by our suffering. While we may have moments where we ignore or exaggerate our suffering, it can be important to move beyond those moments into mindful and balanced awareness.

As part of self-compassion, mindfulness can also have a positive impact on our wellbeing, mental health, and suicide risk. A protective factor for suicide is having effective coping and problem-solving skills; approaching suffering with mindfulness during difficult moments can help to slow down racing thoughts and identify the possibilities for help and support.

Practicing Mindfulness 

Grounding practices can be used to help develop mindfulness and there are many different grounding practices out there. A common grounding practice is known as the 5-Senses Grounding Exercise. This exercise asks you to look around the area you are in and focus in on:

  • 5 things that you see
  • 4 things that you feel
  • 3 things that you hear
  • 2 things that you smell
  • 1 thing that you taste 

Final Thoughts

Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness are parts of self-compassion that can be practiced and developed. Engaging in self-compassion can help us to be more resilient and lower the risk of suicide because it “promotes healthier attribution stylers, mitigates unpleasant emotions, and protects an individual’s well-being” (Maricic et al. 2023). Check out the resources below to learn more about self-compassion.

Citations & Resources for Further Learning

Maricic, J. et al. (2023). The Role of Self-Compassion and Attributions in the Mental Health of Older Adolescents amid the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Neff, K. (2023). Self-Compassion: Theory, Method, Research and Intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 74: 193-218.

Neff, K. (2011). “Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem”. Greater Good Magazine. Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem (

This blog post is part of our 2024 Mental Health Week campaign. To learn more about this campaign, visit:

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