Self Compassion at the heart of well being


Are you self-compassionate? Do you even know what self-compassion actually is?

I often ask this in my clinic and find that the majority of clients see self-compassion as being a show of weakness, unacceptable self-indulgence or something that will demand too much of their precious time. And, full disclosure here, several years ago I felt exactly the same. What changed is that I met Professor Paul Gilbert. In fact, I didn’t just meet Professor Gilbert – I trained for a year with him and he became my hero!


Professor Gilbert has revolutionised how many CBT therapists work. Having trained in a multitude of psychological approaches, Professor Gilbert noticed that, when delivering CBT, the results were significantly reduced if client’s thoughts were particularly self-critical and harsh. Yes, CBT absolutely helps to change the way that people think, but a severe lack of self-compassion places a great big hurdle in the way of positive change.


In 2006, Professor Gilbert set up the Compassionate Mind Foundation to promote well-being through facilitating the scientific understanding and application of compassion.


Personally, Professor Gilbert taught me that the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important relationship we will ever have. It directly and deeply affects our:

  • Happiness
  • Resilience
  • Ability to cope with difficulties
  • Quality of our life
  • Relationships with other people


Ironically, the relationship we have with ourselves is usually the relationship that we most neglect. Unsurprisingly, this neglect underpins a number of mental health problems.


Fortunately, self-compassion is a skill that you can learn and develop as you would learn any other skill. Compassionate mind training (CMT) was developed by Profession Gilbert for people with high shame and self-criticism, whose problems tend to be chronic, and who find self-warmth and self-acceptance difficult and/or frightening.


So far, research is demonstrating excellent results. Certainly, in my own clinical practice, I regularly witness the benefits people experience when their relationship with themselves softens and becomes more compassionate.

Reflecting on my own journey, the one thing that I have learned that has had the single most important impact on my own mental health is self-compassion. I was introduced to it during a three-day workshop by Dr Mary Welford in September 2013.


Dr Welford is also one of the founders of the Compassionate Mind Foundation, author of ‘Building self-confidence through self-compassion’, and has recently recorded a podcast in which she talks about the impact of self-criticism. You can listen to it here: Podcast –


In the podcast, Mary says that the biggest benefit that comes from understanding compassion is learning to use personal wellbeing as the motivation for change. Often, we are negatively motivated and do things out of fear, because we feel threatened or under pressure, or as the result of criticism.


Following my training with Dr Welford, I took a course of therapy – partly to have the experience of being the client and partly to learn more about myself and the ways in which I gave myself a hard time. Of course, I’m still a work in progress (we all are!), but I have subsequently felt more resilient and much better equipped to connect with other people’s distress and more able to support them in moving forward.


I practice mindfulness daily on my Calm phone app, I do yoga as often as I can, I go to the gym and I take much more care of my diet. Previously, my general focus would have always been on my ‘to do’ list and I didn’t prioritise my personal care at all.


In a nutshell, self-compassion is essential for good well-being. And contrary to views that it’s a show of weakness, it’s actually about strength, wisdom and having the courage to turn towards difficulty and do what is necessary to alleviate it.


‘Be careful what you say to yourself, you are always listening”

We need to be very conscious of our inner dialogue, as it can be our greatest obstacle. We are often very compassionate with others but are much harder and more critical of ourselves.  Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone else in the same situation. A good question to ask is: “If someone else was telling me these things, what would I say to them?”

Studies have looked into why we are often so self-critical and it seems we think that self-criticism and harsh talking will motivate us to reach our goals. But, how motivated do you actually feel after a psychological beating?!


Frequently in my therapy practice, it is the inner critical voice of clients that is the main contributing factor to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and generally poor mental health. Consequently, I can categorically say that one of the most helpful things you can do for your psychological health is to start talking to yourself in a kinder way.


Five tips to tackle your inner critic:

  1. Notice it: A few times a day, notice your thoughts – then ask yourself ‘how would I talk to someone else in this situation?’
  2. Analyse-it: Where is the evidence for the thought and is there evidence against it?
  3. Question it: Ask yourself what your best friend would say to you at this moment.
  4. Tackle it: Ask yourself what would be best for your well-being in this moment. What do you need?
  5. Prevent it from happening again: Develop awareness of the function of your critical voice. What is it trying to achieve for you and is there another way of talking to yourself, which may be more beneficial? If you softened the voice what would the benefits be?


If you’re struggling with self-compassion or any other psychological issues, please do get in touch.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at