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The first step to support and lead others is self-compassion

2 May 2017

I’ve long advocated that self-care is a responsibility not a luxury if you’re in any way supporting or leading others. We cannot consistently and sustainably be strong, compassionate and effective if we aren’t treating ourselves with compassion and acknowledging ourselves as strong and effective individuals.

Often, we move through life thinking it’s normal to be self-critical; it’s modest and selfless and makes space for others to shine. But the opposite is in fact true. Dr Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, explains that when we are too harsh on ourselves, we are in fact literally attacking ourselves. Our bodies release cortisol (the stress chemical) which damages our internal systems. Our body reads attack in the same way regardless if it’s a lion chasing us, an angry boss shouting at us or our own internal self-sabotage.

So what can we do? Basically, the antidote to self-attack is self-compassion and self-care, as Kristin Neff explains:

When we soothe our painful feelings with the healing balm of self-compassion, not only are we changing our mental and emotional experience, we’re also changing our body chemistry.

It’s not selfish to treat ourselves with compassion, because if we fill ourselves with compassion, we’re more readily available to be given to others. It’s important that leaders and managers supporting staff, especially those exposed on the frontline of charity work are equipped to guide their team through hard times. Without caring for yourself, it becomes very difficult to do this genuinely.

It’s time to change this conversation. Because too many people I’ve met along the way in the charity sector are burning out, feeling stressed, feeling less than inspired and energised because we live in an environment that congratulates self-criticism rather than self-compassion.

If you are reading this then you are probably already convinced this makes complete sense. Embrace and share the notion of self-compassion and self-care. Be the early adopters and endorse self-compassion in your own workplace.

Adapted with permission from Hannah Massarella’s blog,

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Hannah Massarella

founder, Bird

Hannah is a certified professional co-active coach and the founder of Bird. Bird is about escaping barriers both internally and externally. We champion creativity, innovation and development in the not-for-profit sector. Bird works with NGO workers, researchers, PhD students, doctors, nurses, social workers, carers, teachers, coaches, counsellors and entrepreneurs.