5.3 Self Awareness and Self Compassion

Craig Keaton

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will:

  • Develop skills to practice self-awareness and self-compassion.
  • Summarize self-care techniques.


It’s been said that in order to grow yourself – grow towards your ideal self – you must know yourself. That’s self-awareness. Self-awareness is being consciously aware of yourself, your feelings (physical and emotional), your thoughts, motivations and drives, and your behaviors. Developing self-awareness may go by many names and take many forms.

Greater awareness of self can be accomplished through self-reflection, introspection, mindfulness, or meditation, to name a few. This is the more internally-focused form of self-awareness. Self-awareness can also be gained through feedback from other, trusted people in your life. This is a more externally-focused form of self-awareness. Both forms of knowledge about self are useful and can lead to an array of improvements in your life. To embark on a well-balanced journey of self-awareness consider the following actions:

  • Search yourself – Experiment with different mindfulness, meditation, and self-reflective practices.
  • Share yourself – Share with those you trust the many parts of yourself, including your ideas, thoughts, feelings, concerns and worries, motivations, and passions.
  • Look outside yourself – Seek feedback from those you trust and who see you in action in a range of different contexts.
  • Challenge yourself – As you begin to know more about yourself, your limits, your challenges, and your desires, challenge yourself to step beyond your comfort zone and experience new things. You will discover new things about yourself and grow at the same time.

As you explore self-awareness, you may notice that you can be tough on yourself, overly negative or critical, and begin feeling insecure. Pastor Steven Furtick said, “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Not only can taking seriously the feedback of others be helpful, adopting a self-compassionate perspective can help, too.

NOTES FOR NURSING SUCCESS! Self-awareness is a critical component of therapeutic use of self, where a nurse is aware of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, and how these might affect their interactions with patients. content here.



A great way to begin to explore and know yourself is journaling. While there are many ways to do this, the most important aspect is simply to do it. You can write on paper, type it out, or even dictate notes on your phone. You can do it in the morning to prepare for your day. Journal throughout the day as a way of checking in with yourself. Or you can journal at night to clear your head, release the stress or the day and day upcoming, and more fully relax and rest! You can write for a long time or you can simply make notes or bullets about things you want to get out of your head and onto paper.

Try journaling for a day or two. Come back to class and report how the experience was, how you did it, what worked, what didn’t, what you learned, and learn from others.


While you may be familiar with self-awareness, self-compassion may be newer to you. Kristen Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher, explains that compassion for yourself is no different for the compassion and patience you have for others. According to Neff (n.d.), compassion has three parts: (1) noticing suffering, (2) being moved by and responding to that suffering, and (3) recognizing that suffering and imperfection is something we all share in common. Therefore, self-compassion is responding to your own struggles and imperfection the way you would a good friend or loved one: with kindness.

To begin your practice in self-compassion, consider the following questions:

  • What is one healthy thing I can do to support myself when I’m sad or stressed out?
  • When I am hurting – physically or emotionally – the kindest thing I can do for myself is?
  • What is one story I tell myself that doesn’t support me which I can reinterpret?
  • What would I say to someone I deeply care about who was struggling with the same issue I am?
  • If I loved myself fully, how would I treat myself every day?
  • What’s one small way I can start doing that today?

(Tartakovsky, 2018)

To learn more about self-compassion and for exercises to develop it, visit Self-compassion.org

Ultimately, Neff explains that “self-criticism asks: are you good enough? [while] self-compassion asks: what’s good for you?” Self-compassion seen through this lens aligns perfectly with the best self-care: self-care done your own way and always with a conscious aim to make yourself better!


Reflect and Share

Take a few minutes in class to answer the self-compassion questions above and discuss your findings with a partner, small group, or as a class.


Nursing and school can be stressful. The healthier and more vital you are, the better your work and academic performance will be. Better yet, you can only give what you have. The healthier and more vital you are, the more health and vitality you will have to help, support, and give to others. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is an essential foundation to most authentically helping others. As nurse theorist and professor, Jean Watson, so beautifully shares, self-care is the most important aspect of healing work. Healing, health, and vital life for all starts with you!


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