People are afraid they won't be ambitious enough if they're compassionate with themselves... Self-compassionate people are more oriented toward personal growth than those who continually criticize themselves.
Self-compassion is rarely a goal for most people. Instead, happiness and success are probably high on most people’s list of desires. Yet, according to the research of Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and her colleagues, self-compassion is a key to emotional well-being, a more authentic sense of self-worth, and motivation. Her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (available on my Bookshop and Amazon*) has many exercises for developing and practicing self-compassion.
Here I offer some key takeaways so you don’t have to read the book unless you want to.
Why Focus on Self-Compassion?
Women, especially smart and talented women like those in my coaching practice, are very hard on themselves. According to, Dr. Neff, self-criticism is a way to cope with our highly competitive society:
Self criticism is a type of safety behavior designed to ensure acceptance within the larger group…. It’s as if we’re saying, “I’m going to beat you to the punch and criticize myself before you can. I recognize how flawed and imperfect I am so you don’t have to cut me down and tell me what I already know. Hopefully, you’ll have sympathy for me instead of judging me and assure me that I’m not as bad as I think I am.”
Another reason, we may be harshly critical of ourselves is that…
Many people are afraid they won’t be ambitious enough if they are compassionate with themselves.
The problem is self-criticism is associated with depression, dissatisfaction with life, and dissatisfaction with romantic relationships. It also undermines our ability to do our best and can create greater anxiety around failure.
How to Foster Self-Compassion
Dr. Neff suggests self-compassion has three components. And, when we are faced with challenges, we can try any, or a combination of the following three “doorways”:
First, be kind to yourself:
It requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental…. Self-kindness allows us to feel safe as we respond to painful experiences, so we are no longer operating from a place of fear–and once we let go of insecurity we can pursue our dreams with the self confidence needed to actually achieve them.
Second, remind yourself that encountering pain is part of a shared human experience.
When we’re in touch with our common humanity, we remember that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are shared by all. This is what distinguishes self-compassion from self-pity. Whereas self-pity says “poor me,” self-compassion remembers that everyone suffers and it offers comfort because everyone is human.
Finally, be mindful of your thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s occurring in the present moment. The idea is that we need to see things as they are, no more, no less, in order to respond to our current situation in the most compassionate–and therefore effective–manner.
How might you find more self-compassion in your life today?
My older daughter made me this baby triceratops!
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*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.
An older version of this book note was published in May 2016.