This Is What Fierce Self-Compassion Looks Like

Researcher and Fierce Self-Compassion author Kristin Neff on how to empower ourselves—and change the world—through caring authentically for ourselves.

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For women, it’s easy to internalize the message from our culture that we are the weaker sex, helpless maidens who need a big, strong man to save us. For too long we’ve been taught to value dependence over independence, to be attractive and sexy—not as a way of expressing ourselves, but as a means to attract a man who can protect us. We don’t need men to protect us, we need to protect ourselves. Women are strong. We handle the pain of bearing children. We hold families together and skillfully navigate interpersonal conflict and adversity. But until we learn how to stand up for ourselves with the same fierce energy we use to care for others, our ability to take on the world’s big challenges will remain limited.

Some people worry that self-compassion will make them soft, but it actually gives us incredible power.

Some people worry that self-compassion will make them soft, but it actually gives us incredible power. Olivia Stevenson from the University of Northern Colorado and Ashley Batts Allen from the University of North Carolina examined how self-compassion and inner strength were linked in over 200 women. They found that participants with higher scores on the SCS (self-compassion scale) felt more empowered: They felt stronger and more competent, asserted themselves more, felt more comfortable expressing anger, were more aware of cultural discrimination and committed to social activism. These findings are echoed in other research showing that self-compassionate women are more likely to confront others when needed and are less afraid of conflict.

The three elements of self-compassion—self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness—each have an important role to play when compassion is aimed at protecting ourselves. When we’re fighting to keep ourselves safe, the three components of self-compassion manifest as brave, empowered clarity.

Tap Into Fierce Self-Compassion

This short practice cultivates fierce self-compassion in service of brave, empowered clarity.

  1. Think of a situation in your life in which you feel the need to protect yourself, draw boundaries, or stand up to someone. Maybe you’re being taken advantage of or treated unfairly, or there’s something happening to a group you identify with that is unjust.
  2. Connect with mindfulness. Slowly and with conviction, say to yourself: “I clearly see the truth of what’s happening.”
  3. Call on the wisdom of common humanity, especially the power of connection, so you can draw strength from others while protecting yourself. Say to yourself, “I am not alone. Other people have experienced this as well.”
  4. Now, put a fist over your heart, as a gesture of strength and bravery. Commit to being kind to yourself by keeping yourself safe. As a reminder, assert confidently, “I will protect myself.”
  5. Finally, put your other hand over your fist and hold it tenderly. The invitation is to combine the fierce energy of brave, empowered clarity with the tender energy of loving, connected presence.
  6. Give yourself full permission to feel the force of your anger, your resolve, your truth, but also let this force be caring. Call on your fierceness to commit to taking action, while still keeping love alive.

From the book Fierce Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. Copyright © 2021 by Kristin Neff. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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