Misgivings about self-compassion


Many people find that they are much kinder to others than they are to themselves. One of the obstacles to developing self-compassion is doubting its efficacy. These doubts are often founded on well-intended fears about being selfish or indulgent —and it’s useful to discern for ourselves whether we are choosing to be hard on ourselves for some useful purpose or whether we’re actually caught up in a habitual pattern of self-criticism.

Here are some of the common misgivings:

—Self-compassion is a pity-party

Self-compassion doesn’t mean we over-exaggerate our suffering and dissolve into a woeful mess. Mindfulness —the ability to let go of thinking and shift our attention to something present like the breath, physical sensations or the world around us— is a key component of self-compassion. Research shows that self-compassionate people are more likely to entertain a variety of perspectives rather than focus on their own distress (1) and are less likely to ruminate (2).

—Self-compassionate people are weak

Research shows that self compassion builds resilience and that self-compassionate people are better able to cope with distress, divorce and chronic pain. (3) Often we see self-compassion as a gentle, passive quality, but it also has a tremendously courageous, active aspect. Think of the fire-fighters who dive into burning buildings out of compassion for others.

—Self-compassion is selfish

Won’t I become narcissistic if I focus more on my own needs? Research shows that we habitually focus more on the needs of others around us. Self-compassionate people tend to be more caring and supportive in romantic relationships (4) and are more compassionate towards others. (5)

—Self-compassion is self-indulgent

“What if I start indulging myself?” There’s a wisdom and an awareness in true compassion, a discernment of what is actually beneficial for us, both in the short-term and the long-term. Self-compassionate people tend to engage in healthier behaviours for long-term benefit like exercise (6), eating well (7) and drinking less (8).

—Self-compassionate people make excuses

I don’t know about you, but the times I’ve lied or made excuses are the times I’ve felt unsafe. I’ve chosen to hide my true feelings out of fear or shame or simply wanting to survive. When we feel safe, we are more likely to admit our mistakes, and self-compassion helps us build this resource. Research shows that self-compassionate people take responsibility for their actions (9) and are more likely to apologise if they’ve offended someone. (10)

—Self-compassion undermines our motivation

Self-criticism has actually been shown to undermine self-confidence and lead to a fear of failure. (11) Self-compassion actually encourages us to take care of our health and wellbeing, providing the support needed for change. Imagine having a coach: would you feel more motivated by a supportive, encouraging one or a harsh, critical one?

“Your finest work, your best movements, your joy, peace, and healing comes when you love yourself. You give a great gift to the world when you do that. You give others permission to do the same:
to love themselves.” ~ Melodie Beattie

What now?

Still having some doubts? Why not give the Self-Compassion Break a go for a week and see for yourself?

You might also like to test how self-compassionate you are and see what your personal strengths and opportunities for learning are.


Content gratefully adapted from the Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Training Course. Lyndi is a graduate of this course, based on the work of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. Find out more or register for an MSC course in Brisbane.

  1. Neff & Pommier, 2013
  2. Raes, 2010
  3. Wren et al, 2012
  4. Neff & Beretvas, 2013
  5. Neff & Pommier, 2013
  6. Magnus, Kowalski & McHugh, 2010
  7. Schonefeld & Webb, 2013
  8. Brooks et al, 2012
  9. Leary et al, 2007
  10. Brienes & Chen, 2012
  11. Brienes & Chen, 2012

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