Rich Schmitt Photography 035What is Self-Compassion?

As Explained by Kristen Neff

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.”

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Definition and Three Elements of Self Compassion | Kristin Neff. (n.d.).Retrieved September 19, 2016.

What is the Opposite of Self-Compassion?

Self-criticism: Many people have a strong inner critic, the internal voice that points out every perceived flaw or mistake we make. Other people’s errors may seem like part of being human, while our own missteps feel unforgivable, shameful, or proof that we’re in some way flawed. Do you have different rules for yourself than you do for other people? Those double standards can lead us to feel compassion for other people while we treat ourselves harshly.

Why Do People Criticize Themselves?

We live in a fast-paced, competitive world, with lots of demands placed on us. For many people, self-criticism is the primary tool for staying motivated and productive. When they feel like resting, they force themselves back to work by berating themselves. They may punish themselves for “slacking off” or for making mistakes.

Self-criticism may seem like the only force strong enough to keep us going at such a breakneck pace, and to keep us striving for perfection. Many people worry that without self-criticism, they would not be able to maintain the pace and high standards that seem to be required for success in the modern world.

Over time, self-criticism becomes second nature; we may not know how to view ourselves or treat ourselves more kindly.

My Self-Criticism Keeps Me on Task. Why is it a Problem?

Self-criticism may seem like an effective strategy for motivating yourself. In fact, treating yourself harshly, and reminding yourself of your shortcomings or mistakes, may feel essential for keeping yourself on task. However, the issues created by chronic self-criticism are likely to outweigh the benefits. Self-criticism may even be harming rather than helping your productivity.

Self-criticism raises stress and anxiety levels, is often exhausting, and can lead to depression, poor physical health, and burnout. Far from being a motivating and strengthening force in the long term, people who are very self-critical are often more fragile and are more easily thrown by obstacles or unexpected difficulties. Being harsh with yourself may also lead you to undermine yourself through activities like procrastination.

Self-criticism can interfere with people’s ability to have close relationships as well. If you’re focused on a constant stream of negative self-talk, it’s hard to be present and relaxed when you’re with other people. Self-criticism may also lead you to be more guarded, more sensitive to perceived criticism, and to treat other people more harshly. Self-criticism can be a major obstacle to being yourself and developing intimate, meaningful relationships.


Self-compassion is not:

Self-Criticism Can Sabotage Your Happiness; and Productivity:

Self Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises:


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