The health and wellbeing benefits of practicing self-compassion

8th March 2023

Authors: Mary Steen, University of Northumbria, Newcastle (UK). Dianne Wepa, University of Bradford, Bradford (UK). Stephen McGhee, Ohio State University, Columbus (USA).

Stephen McGhee photoDianne Wepa photoMary Steen photo

Self-compassion it not a new concept; it has been embedded in Buddhist philosophy and meditation and practiced for over 2500 years. However, during the last two decades there has been pioneering work undertaken that demonstrates having the ability to give yourself self-compassion can reduce levels of anxiety, stress and depression. [i] [ii] [iii]

It has been demonstrated that self-compassion can improve a person’s health and wellbeing[iv] [v] and interpersonal relationships.[vi] Self-compassion can act as a buffer against negative emotions and feelings, and helps to maintain mental and physical health. [vii] [viii]. Additionally, it has been reported that having a high level of self-compassion improved sleeping patterns and resilience.

So, what is self-compassion?

Neff et al. defines self-compassion as:

"Being caring and compassionate towards oneself in the face of hardship or perceived inadequacy". [ix]

Gilbert has stated "…a basic kindness with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it".[x]

Neff described and discussed how self-compassion has three interacting components, each of these with a positive and negative element: self-kindness versus self-judgment, common humanity versus isolation, and mindfulness versus over-identification.[xi]

Therefore, self-compassion is having the ability to care for yourself by being aware of your feelings and accepting these when experiencing difficult life problems and/or work challenges.

Emerging evidence

Finding from several reviews of current literature we have been involved in confirms the pioneering work mentioned above. The reviews involved different target populations but show consistently that accepting negative emotions and practicing self-compassion has several health and wellbeing benefits. 

Here are some recent reviews that provide emerging evidence of the benefits:

The first review relates to veterans as the target population. This scoping review included 17 studies. The findings showed emerging evidence to support the health and well-being benefits of self-compassion for veterans. Higher levels of self-compassion were associated with less mental and physical health problems in particular, guilt related trauma and PTSD.[xii] This review concluded that further research would be worthwhile involving veterans and other target populations in particular, those who have been exposed to traumatic experiences.

The second review relates to midwives and nurses as the target population.[xiii] This scoping review included 22 studies. The findings showed emerging evidence to support the health and well-being benefits of self-compassion. This review reported that self-compassion appears to help reduce work-based stressors such as anxiety, compassion fatigue, and burnout in nurses and midwives. This review also highlighted evidence to suggest that self-compassion can improve caring efficacy, empathy, emotional intelligence and burnout. The emerging evidence from this review has led to on-going research being currently undertaken in Australia and UK and there are plans to extend this research to other countries.[xiv]

The third review relates to parents and families. This systematic review included 11 studies. Once again, findings are similar to the other reviews and provide some evidence to support the health and well-being benefits of self-compassion education for parent and families. The review concluded that self-compassion education and training may improve awareness and increase parents’ and families’ ability to have self-compassion when being a parent and experiencing life challenges.[xv]

In summary

Self-compassion skills can be learned to help people positively manage negative emotions and be less self-critical, and this then indirectly helps to be compassionate to others. Being kind to yourself and acknowledging that suffering is unavoidable and a shared experience by all human beings and practicing some form of mindfulness can help to cultivate self-compassion. Cultivating self-compassion and compassion for others in the 21st century seems to have the potential to help a range of target populations. We recommend investing in research and education to cultivate self-compassion and compassion for others on an international scale.


[i] Neff, K. (2003), Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself, Self and Identity, 2. pp. 85-101.

[ii] Gilbert, P. (2009), The Compassionate Mind.  Constable: London, United Kingdom, pp. 13.

[iii] Neff, K. and Germer, K. (2013), A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69. pp. 28-44.

[iv] Dunne, S., Sheffield, D, and Chilcot, J. (2016), Brief report: self-compassion, physical health, and the mediating role of health-promoting behaviours, Journal of Health Psychology,. 23. 7.

[v] MacBeth, A. and Gumley, A. (2012), Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology, Clinical Psychology Review, 32. 6. pp. 545-552.

[vi]  Neff, K. and Beretvas, S. (2013), The role of self-compassion in romantic relationships, Self and Identity, 12. 1. pp 12, 78-98.

[vii] Booth,, NR., McDermott, RC., Cheng, HL. and Borgogna,, NC. (2019), Masculine gender role stress and self-stigma of seeking help: The moderating roles of self-compassion and self-coldness, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66. 6. pp.755–762.

[viii] Ferrari, M., Yap, K., Scott, N., Einstein, DA and Ciarrochi,, J (2019), Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood, PLOS ONE, 13. 2.

[ix] Neff, K., Kirkpatrick B. and Rude, S. (2007), Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning, Journal of Research in Personality, 41. 1. pp. 139–154,

[x] Gilbert, p 9.

[xi] Neff, K. (2003)

[xii] Steen, M., Di Lemma., L., Finnegan, A., Wepa, D. and McGhee, S. (2021a), Self-Compassion and Veteran's Health: A Scoping Review, Journal of Veteran Studies.

[xiii] Steen M., Javanmard M and Vernon, R (2021b), The influence of self-compassion upon midwives and nurses, Evidence-based Midwifery, 19.  3. pp.16-30.


[xv]  Othman S., Steen, M., Wepa, D and McKellar, L. (in press), Examining the influence of self-compassion education and training upon parents and families when caring for their children: A systematic review, Open Psychology.

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