What is selfcompassion?

There’s a fresh way to look at self-compassion, which is how we experience it:

Self-compassion is the opposite of self-hate; it’s a resolve to be as kind to our self as we would to a good friend.

Self-compassion is hearing and responding to our own cry in the dark.

Self-compassion is a journey to free our heart from its dungeon, so we can live from our true self. 

Selfcompassion is the opposite of selfhate; its a resolve to be as kind to our self as we would to a good friend.  

Part of us may recoil at the phrase “self-hate,” thinking it doesn’t apply to us. However, when we judge our self, we are being unkind. If we stop and listen to our critical inner voice, and hear its constant judgments and put-downs, we can recognize a muted shade of loathing. We may shrug and think there’s no harm in it, but as one psychologist observed, “The effects of self-loathing are worse than cancer.” Our judgments are like weapons. How many spears do we throw at ourselves within the space of an hour, or a day? Self-criticism has become a habitual pattern that locks our heart, our basic warmth and goodness, in a dark dungeon, and then guards the door.


Self-compassion is hearing and responding to our own cry in the dark.

            Empathy is being aware of and resonating with another person’s experience. But, since it is passive, empathy alone isn’t enough. Compassion begins with empathy, but includes a response.

            Similarly, self-compassion is something we do. And that’s because compassion is active.

            Compassion is our ability to really see someone’s suffering and be moved to respond however we can. Imagine you’re a parent waking up in the middle of the night on hearing the anguished cry of your child. Compassion is being aware of and touched by the cry of pain, so that you naturally want to go there and relieve your child’s suffering by removing the cause, or at the very least, offering comfort.

But for many of us, the “cry in the darkness” we fail to hear is our own. Part of us has been hurting with old injuries, shame, sorrow, or anguish. And we’ve been ignoring our inner cry of pain.

So, self-compassion is:

being aware of our suffering, so that it touches us, and

responding with kindness and care.


Selfcompassion is a journey to free our heart from its dungeon, so we can live from our true self.

In Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue writes:

“It is difficult to realize actually how desperately we need love. You inhabit your life, you seem to be in control. You live within an independent physical body. From the outside, you seem to be managing very well. Because you present this face to the world, no-one suspects that you have a different ‘inner body’ called the heart – which can do nothing for itself, if it is not loved.

“If our hearts were outside our bodies, we would see them as crippled bodies which transform into ballet dancers under the gaze, and in the embrace, of love. . . .   Like someone who has been lost for years in a forgotten place, you rejoice in being found.” 

That’s a beautiful image for self-compassion. If we could witness the state of our heart right now, we would see how crippled it has become from the arrows of harsh self-judgment. This tender heart has been rejected so often that it feels banished in a dark dungeon. When we see and care for our own suffering, we’re willing to do what it takes to free the part of us that’s hurting, no matter what the cost. Only by offering our ourselves kindness and love can our heart be freed, and regain its natural ease and joy.

Our true self could be called “essence love”, which is the innate kindness we were born with. Essence love is a sense of natural ease, a deep knowing that were okay, just as we are.

We weren’t born with self-criticism, inner hatred, or believing we are unworthy of love and belonging. These patterns and beliefs were developed from a variety of causes and conditions, so they are not our true self. Many of the protective patterns we developed in order to survive old hurts have disconnected us from essence love. But even though we seem cut off, the truth is, essence love has never left us. It’s always there, waiting to be freed.

Sometimes, we hit a wall—many things in our life are going wrong, and nothing we try is working. Even though compassion is something we value, we may sense that we don’t care about anyone else. We’ve stopped feeling. And our own pain? Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, we keep stepping over the “moaning person in the street” while getting on with our busy lives.

            Slowing down is the first step that enables us to feel self-compassion.

            The second step is what I call “gently seeing”.

When we’ve hit a wall, and fighting doesn’t work, we can choose to slow down, turn inward, and gently see our own pain and suffering. We look at that moaning person within, as if it were our good friend, and view our anguish with understanding and kindness. Then naturally we’re touched with the wish to respond.

Self-compassion is meeting your suffering with kindness, and, frankly, that’s the most courageous thing you can do.

No one else can do it for you.

Self-compassion is a heroic journey to free your heart, which reconnects you with essence love.

You feel like you’ve come home; home to your true self.


Text: © 2018 Christine Longaker.   Photo © istock.com


Please share your insights below.

A free guided meditation on self-compassion is yours to keep: “Feeling Worthy of Love.” Request it here!







Christine Longaker

Hospice and spiritual care pioneer and author of "Facing Death and Finding Hope: A Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying," Christine Longaker is writing a book on Self-Compassion, and developing trainings and an online course based on the book.


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