How Self-Compassion Can Heal Distress and Build Resilience

May 10, 2022

by Lyndsay Babcock 
Psychologist & Director – The Self Centre


We all experience difficulties in life and experience emotional pain or distress. While none of us can stop distress entering our (sometimes daily) lives, we can learn the skills necessary to respond healthily when we feel upset or confronted. It appears that self-compassion may be the key to dealing with emotional distress and building our capacity to cope with the difficulties of life.

We may find it easy to be compassionate to others, but find that we are critical or judgemental of ourselves during times of difficulty. Self-compassion means noticing when you are in pain or distress, having empathy for yourself, and offering support, rather than judgment. Research by Dr Kristen Neff has found that self-compassion increases resilience, heals emotional wounds, improves mood, self-esteem and overall wellbeing.

The key components of self-compassion according to Dr Neff, are:

  • practicing self-kindness instead of self-judgement
  • understanding your pain is a common human experience rather than one isolated to you alone
  • being mindful and balanced in your observation of your experience rather than over-identifying with your pain.

These are key concepts in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as well, an approach that we offer at The Self Centre. A key aspect of ACT suggests that by helping our clients identify their core values, they then have the choice to focus on their values, rather than getting stuck in their pain and distress. Our clients reports that some of the key values that matter to them include: peace, health, wellbeing, harmony, connection, strength, kindness, patience, and generosity.  At The Self Centre when we help people increase their connection to their values in daily life, we often see improved meaning, emotional health and wellbeing. Tips for healing daily and old emotional wounds include:

1. Try to stay grounded during times of distress – breathing and being in your body really helps!

2. Knowing your values and living in alignment with them in daily life.

3. Focus on being compassionate, forgiving and gentle with yourself and others.

4. Revisit your past wounds with compassionate and gentle eyes.

5. Create a solid network of supportive people around you.

Developing self-compassion supports our nervous system to move out of fight/flight stress reaction (where we feel anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed) and into what I call ‘rest and restore’. It is while we are in ‘rest and restore’ that we can healthily process pain, heal our wounds, connect to and act from our value system and build enduring resilience.

With practice, we can help our bodies move more easily into rest and restore, and begin to develop new neurological pathways in our brains. This means we are literally re-wiring our brain to move into calm after distress. With practice these new pathways become more automatic and we begin to feel more able to stay calm, respond with compassion, and be naturally more resilient during times of distress.

Ref:  Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself Paperback – June 23, 2015