Myths about Self-Compassion

For many reasons, people often reject self-compassion as “not for me”.  This month on the blog, we’d like to look at several common myths about self-compassion, and provide some clarity around what self-compassion actually is (and what it is not). 

Myth #1:  Self-compassion is weak.  If I’m not hard on myself, I’ll never get anything done.

In our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture, there is a pervasive belief that being tough on yourself is the best way to remain productive and engaged. Research, however, shows that this is not actually true. Motivating oneself with self-criticism tends to lead to fear of failure, and giving up early when things don’t go as planned. Additionally, people who attempt to motivate themselves with self-criticism tend to avoid taking risks. On the contrary, people high in self-compassion are more likely to take risks, persevere in the face of challenge, and learn from their mistakes rather than give up. People high in self-compassion are able to accept critical feedback without personalizing it. All in all, people who are high in self-compassion also possess the skills necessary to improve performance, rather than diminish it.

Myth #2:  Self-compassion is selfish. 

It’s common to hear people express concern that if they practice self-compassion, they will become less compassionate towards other people, and obsessed with their own needs. Remember, one of the components of self-compassion is common humanity – the understanding that no matter your circumstances, struggling and hurting is a shared human experience, and not personal. People with high self-compassion actually show increased ability to lean in to others’ suffering, rather than avoid it. Additionally, people with high self-compassion are more willing to compromise in relationship conflicts, and forgive other people rather than hold a grudge. In short, the way we treat ourselves is indicative of the way we treat other people – self-compassionate people treat others with compassion.

Myth #3: Self-compassion will make me lazy.

Some people might make the mistake of equating self-compassion with self-indulgence, leading to a fear that if they practice self-compassion, they’ll sit around all day eating cookies and watching Netflix. This is indicative of a misunderstanding of what self-compassion actually is. Self-compassion enables people to honor their long-term values and goals, rather than indulge short-term urges. Fierce self-compassion includes caring enough about yourself to take steps towards bigger goals, and to tolerate the necessary discomfort along the way. Research actually shows that people with high levels of self-compassion engage in more, not less, health behaviors, including exercising, eating well, and drinking less.

For more information about self-compassion, we highly recommend Dr. Kristin Neff’s work.  Our main resource for this article was the self-help manual The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer.  And some research related to self-compassion includes the following:

Neff, K.D., & Pommier, E. (2013).  The relationship between self-compassion and other-focused concern among college undergraduates, community adults, and practicing meditators. Self and Identity, 12(2), 160-176.

Sbarra, D.A., Smith, H.L. & Mehl, M.R. (2012). When leaving your ex, love yourself: Observational ratings of self-compassion predict the course of emotional recovery following marital separation. Psychological Science, 23, 261-269.

Magnus, C.R., Kowalski, K.C. & McHugh, T.F. (2010). The role of self-compassion in women’s self-determined motives to exercise and exercise-related outcomes. Self and Identity, 9, 363-382.

Zhang, J.W., & Chen, S. (2016). Self-compassion promotes personal improvement from regret experiences via acceptance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(2), 244-258.

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