• Carolyn Prins

Don't be so Hard on Yourself-Practicing Self-compassion

It's a new year, and many of us view this time as a 'fresh start'. Setting goals and striving to fulfill them is important, however, there will be times at which we momentarily fail and begin to doubt our own abilities. What can we do in those moments?

This week marks the beginning of a new series on the blog, "Climbing the Mountain: Challenge and Growth." In this series I hope to share with you some tools you can use to foster your well-being while achieving your goals.

Do you ever have those moments when your frustration with yourself feels overwhelming, and your mistakes unforgivable? It is difficult to press onward with a difficult task when these feelings keep you focused on the past. Remaining trapped in your doubt limits your ability to fix your mistake and move forward, depriving you of an opportunity to boost your confidence and learn problem-solving skills. Associated with increases in well-being [3], self-compassion can be a useful tool for overcoming our doubts and failures by allowing us to take a balanced perspective on events in our lives.

It is often difficult to grasp what a word like 'self-compassion' actually means. While we may use it regularly in conversation, it can be helpful to look at the literature and see how self-compassion has been described and understood.

Self-compassion has three major components [2]:

  1. Self-kindness: showing kindness and understanding to yourself

  2. Common humanity: viewing your experience as part of human life, instead of something that separates you

  3. Mindfulness: maintaining a balanced acknowledgment of your difficult thoughts and feelings. You recognize that your thoughts and feelings are valid, but do not take them to represent your identity.

To better understand what it means to be compassionate towards oneself, I like to imagine it in the context of showing compassion to others. Imagine sitting down with a friend who has made a large error on her project. She is frustrated with herself, as it's a simple task that she knows how to do. She anxious about the effect it will have on she and her team, and is beginning to doubt if she's up to the task altogether. How do you respond to this scenario? Perhaps you start by showing your friend kindness. You don't judge her for her mistake, and you try to understand how she is feeling. Next, you might remind her that everyone makes mistakes. Her other teammates have likely made errors on projects in the past, and she isn't alone in her experience. Finally, you may try and counter some of the negative ways she has started to describe herself. You remind her that she's not a failure, and she has succeeded in many ways before. While you recognize that her mistake was real and that it does have an impact, you help her to realize that she can overcome this setback. Now, take this scenario and imagine that that friend was you. You can show compassion to yourself in exactly the same way you did for your friend.

When people hear about self-compassion for the first time, it quickly becomes synonymous in their minds with self-esteem, despite these two concepts being distinct. Self-esteem involves having a positive view of yourself, and believing that you are valued by others [1]. High self-compassion often goes hand-in-hand with high self-esteem. Despite this association, highly self-compassionate people tend to lack the excessive pride and narcissism (preoccupation and admiration of oneself) which can sometimes accompany high self-esteem [1]. Therefore, it is important to foster both self-esteem and self-compassion.

A common fear for some is that if they practice self-compassion, they will become passive and 'go too easy' on themselves [2]. However, with genuine self-compassion one's mistakes don't go unacknowledged or unfixed. Instead, because one compassionately desires well-being for themselves, they work towards fixing the situation [2]. Self-compassion is powerful because it encourages people to "acknowledge their role in negative events without becoming overwhelmed with negative emotions [1]." Think of a time when you were so upset with yourself that your focus and work ethic just drained away. In these moments, practicing self-compassion can help you acknowledge your feelings, but also move forward with your task.

At the end of the day, we all make mistakes, have shortcomings, and can feel discouraged from time-to-time. What makes you successful is how you deal with these problems. Self-compassion is a valuable tool for doing so.


1. Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Batts Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self- compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(5), 887.

2. Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

3. Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of research in personality, 41(1), 139-154.


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