The practice of fierce self-compassion

By Bianca Crapis

So often when we think of action on climate, we focus on the urgency of doing. The measure of success becomes tied to results that often lie far beyond our locus of control. Yet, as Joanna Macy points out, there is a significant link between burnout and outcome-based hope. When, as advocates for justice, our sense of worth is dependent upon being able to measure the change we have created, it is likely that we will become disillusioned, despairing and depressed. Rebecca Solnit reminds us that we don’t engage in activism because it will work, but because it is right. Yet, we still need to look after ourselves emotionally in this process. Things can begin to feel pretty messy and difficult a lot of the time.

Bringing our whole messy humanness to this work requires self-compassion – the ability to show up for ourselves lovingly in challenging times. Self-compassion has been a mainstay of Psychology for a Safe Climate’s work since we began running workshops around 2015. Our climate work centers on the interrelationship between the systemic and the personal, inviting people to work with the challenge of meeting our own suffering and the world’s suffering from a place of presence and care.

Self-compassion is a key facet of PSC’s support model that falls under the category of ‘resilience’. While resilience typically suggests the idea of being able to ‘bounce back’ quickly from a challenge, or keep going in spite of the hardships, at PSC, we ask,

What if resilience was less about pushing through, and more about being with?

Kristen Neff, who popularized secular practices of self-compassion, has recently coined the term Fierce Self-Compassion, and we know that many of you will find this concept and these practices very helpful for ‘being with’ and ‘staying with’ what is most difficult.

According to Kristen Neff, “Fierce Self-Compassion involves ‘acting in the world’ to alleviate suffering. It tends to involve protecting, providing for, and motivating ourselves. Sometimes we need to stand tall and say no, draw boundaries, or fight injustice. Or we may need to say yes to ourselves, to do what’s needed to be happy rather than subordinating our needs to those of others.”

Rather than looking outward at catastrophe and blame, we look at what matters to us to bring wisdom to whatever our next step will be. Fierce Self-Compassion doesn’t exist alone because it isn’t always the wisest step for us to ‘take action’. It needs to be balanced by a Tender Self-Compassion, an inward turning to the places that hurt with an intention of nurturance and care. Tenderness and ferocity, in this way, meet each other as supportive partners. This month’s invitation to practice with a ‘fierce friend’ is drawn from a selection of practices on fierce self-compassion available on Neff’s website. We have found that when we kindle the warmth of this fierce self-compassion we can be deeply present with the climate crisis, and from this place, take clear-eyed, wholehearted action.


  1. Listen to this visualisation from Kristen Neff (it’s about 15 minutes)
  2. What did your fierce friend have to say? Take a moment to write down what you heard and learned from them

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