Self-compassion for Skeptics

"Self-compassion." Even the name sounds soft, weak, something only type B people who frolic in fields indulge in. Not you. Maybe you're hard on yourself sometimes, but it helps you achieve. You don't need to waste time being nice to yourself. Hmm... 


Before we go on, let's lay out a quick working definition of this concept: Self-compassion entails treating yourself with kindness and understanding, the way your would treat a good friend or loved one when they are struggling. It involves being mindful of your thoughts when you face a failure, are suffering, or feel less than, i.e., applying some objectivity and neutrality to your thoughts. It is also involves connecting with the shared human experience of struggle and imperfection. Self-compassion is not self-esteem (which is actually reliant on external comparisons and approval) or self-indulgence. 


We resist self-compassion because we don't believe we deserve self-compassion. Yeah, you're 100% there for your friend when she's going through a rough time, or empathic and patient with your coworker when she gets negative feedback from your boss, but when it's you? It feels too indulgent, almost self-centered and arrogant, to believe that you're entitled to this same warmth and acceptance.

Most of us also resist allowing ourselves to practice self-compassion because we believe that we need to be hard on ourselves in order to get results or push ourselves towards growth. We fear that if we're kinder to ourselves, it will result in a complete relaxation of our standards. We won't be productive at all because we'll be so at peace with ourselves, or we'll get so lazy we'll meld into the couch. When we fail at something, we believe we can't possibly learn or do better next time if we forgive and accept ourselves. 

Some examples of self-critical thoughts:

  • You idiot. How could you have locked yourself out of the house?

  • Everyone around you is so much more successful. You haven't accomplished anything and you'll never do anything valuable with yourself.

  • No wonder you only got a B- on that test. You didn't study nearly hard enough.

  • Who are you to think you can get a promotion?

  • It's so shameful that you're struggling with anxiety. You should be able to handle it on your own.

  • You're so fat and ugly. It's a wonder you have any friends at all.

Ouch. Almost hard to read. But we hurl these kinds of thoughts at ourselves constantly. You know you're guilty of it.

Now ask yourself: How do you feel when you're hard on yourself and think these kinds of thoughts? Motivated? Sometimes, maybe, briefly. But overall, I doubt it. More importantly, ask yourself what you tend to do in reaction to self-critical thoughts like these? 

Self-compassion for skeptics

Yeah, indulge, retreat, dive into social media, generally distract and feel worthless. That does not sound like a recipe for a helpful or productive mindset. When we are constantly beating ourselves up in the face of challenges, we end up wearing ourselves down. WE BECOME LESS PRODUCTIVE. We perceive our own thoughts as threats and we are more prone to depression and isolation.  


Self-compassion can be vulnerable because to truly offer ourselves compassion, we have to accept ourselves as we are, flaws and all.  It requires us to recognize and embrace that we are not perfect; we might have made a mistake, not performed as well as we would have liked, be struggling in a relationship, etc. But the beauty is, we are all imperfect. So rather than wallowing in the isolating experience of self-criticism, we can feel connected to others through this uniting truth. 

When we allow ourselves to notice our inner critic with some distance and objectivity, when we say things to ourselves we would say to someone we care about, and when we recognize that we are not alone in feeling flawed and facing struggle, we are actually acting from a place of strength. Far more strength than when we passively let self-critical thoughts guide our behavior. 

Some examples of self-compassionate thoughts:

  • You were in a rush this morning and you've been working so hard. Anyone could have forgotten their keys.

  • Self-comparison is a game you will lose every time. You are working towards some goals and you will get there in time.

  • You studied as hard as you could for that test in the time you had. Maybe next time you can start earlier. One test does not reflect your intelligence or worth.

  • You are just as likely to get a promotion as everyone else on your team. It is hard not knowing though.

  • There is no shame in getting help for mental health issues. Everyone struggles and needs help from time to time.

  • Your weight/appearance do not affect your worth. You have friends because you are a lovable person.

Our approach of self-criticism in the face of failure or struggle has taken root so deeply for most of us that it is uncomfortably foreign to be kind to ourselves. We don't even have a roadmap. We have to consciously teach ourselves how to do it. 

It takes some practice, and some willingness to believe we deserve our own compassion, but the results are deepened connection with others, resilience in the face of challenges, and a sense of self-acceptance that actually allows for more productivity and growth. 

For more information and lots of great resources on self-compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff's website:

ARE you willing to try a self-compassionate approach next time you find yourself being self-critical?