Needing permission: The experience of self-care and self-compassion in nursing: A constructivist grounded theory study

Hannah Andrews, Stephanie Tierney, Kate Seers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Healthcare is delivered in a culture of ongoing change, with many nurses highlighting the impact of this on their own wellbeing. However, there is a dearth of literature focusing on how nurses care for themselves as they try to provide compassionate care in a challenging job. Objectives: This study explored nurses’ experience of self-care and self-compassion and how this may relate to compassionate care giving towards patients. Design: A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to develop a theoretical understanding of nurses’ experience. Settings: This study included participants from two National Health Service (NHS) Trusts within the United Kingdom (UK). Participants: Purposive and theoretical sampling were used to recruit general, mental health and learning disability nurses, at different levels of seniority. Method: Between September 2015 and March 2016 semi-structured interviews were conducted. Analysis was completed in line with the process set out within constructivist grounded theory. Using constant comparison and memo writing, analysis moved from initial coding to focused coding, through to theoretical coding, resulting in the production of core concepts and categories, and theory development. Results: Thirty participants were included in the study. Three concepts were derived from the data: (1) ‘Hardwired to be caregivers’ – vocation versus role, (2) needing a stable base, (3) Managing the emotions of caring. All three concepts linked to a core process: needing permission to self-care and be self-compassionate. Nurses needed permission from others and from themselves to be self-caring and self-compassionate. An inability to do this affected their wellbeing and compassionate care giving to others. Interviewees described how they struggled particularly with self-compassion. Helping nurses to be proactively more self-caring and self-compassionate may increase their ability to manage emotions and prevent some of the negative consequences of nursing such as burnout and compassion fatigue. A conceptual framework is proposed which identifies that formal permission (e.g., within nursing guidance) may be necessary for some nurses to look after themselves. Conclusion: Findings identified the need for permission as key in enabling nurses to self-care and be self-compassionate, which may facilitate them to address patients’ needs. The study highlights the importance of self-care and self-compassion within nursing education and nursing guidance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103436
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Early online date25 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in International Journal of Nursing Studies. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in International Journal of Nursing Studies, 101, (2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2019.103436

© 2020, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


  • Compassion
  • Compassionate care
  • Nursing
  • Self-care
  • Self-compassion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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