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Is Self-Compassion for Wimps?


By Greg Skibinski, MA, LCPC, CADC, CSAT, CMAT, Executive Director, Agape Counseling, LTD

Is self-compassion for wimps? No. Actually, it is a difficult thing to
practice. I’m sure we all have felt a sense of compassion for others. We
feel a sense of kindness or empathy toward them—maybe even a desire to
help them and reduce their pain or suffering after we’ve heard their
tale of hardship. Oftentimes, we feel a sense of compassion for someone
who just sat next to us or maybe even a complete stranger who just
opened up to us. We can feel that sense of compassion for them and may
even offer words of encouragement, but if we take that approach to
ourselves and try to say those very same things, it suddenly becomes
difficult and often unfamiliar.

What is that familiar voice in our heads that tells us, “You don’t
deserve compassion. Look what you just did! You don’t make enough money!
You are so hard on your kids! No one in their right mind would have
done that or chosen you!”?

Sure, the term “compassion” can sound soft and weak. But there is a
growing body of research suggesting that your relationship with yourself
is just as important as your relationship with others, especially if
you want to improve your current situation. 

If your inner dialogue is mean, whenever you stumble, fall, or fail, you
simply set yourself up to fail again. But if you’re kind to yourself,
you have a shot at doing better the next time. You will be more inclined
to remember your mistake and choose a different path. We need to
exercise our self-compassion and follow a simple strategy: Treat
yourself as you would treat a colleague or friend who has failed.

Self-compassion creates a caring space within you that is free of
judgment, a place that sees your hurt and your failures and accepts
those experiences with kindness and caring. Psychologist Kristin Neff’s
research has found that self-compassion has three components:

  1. Be kind to yourself by engaging in a positive internal dialogue.
    For example, you might say, “It’s okay that you failed; it doesn’t mean
    you’re a bad person or bad at what you do.”
  2. Understand that everyone makes mistakes and that what you’re going through is normal.
  3. Be mindful. This one may be the most difficult. Be aware of your
    thoughts and feelings without succumbing to them. You might say to
    yourself, “This is really hard right now,” or “I’m sorry you’re
    struggling right now.”

In her book, The Happiness Track, Emma Seppala writes, “Rather than
berating and judging, thereby adding to your friend’s despair, you
listen with understanding. You encourage your friend to remember that
mistakes are normal.”

By consistently practicing self-compassion, Seppala says, you’ll reap a
number of biological and psychological benefits, including enhanced
well-being and less anxiety and depression. You’ll have an easier time
bouncing back from stressful situations—a trait mental health
practitioners call resilience. You can’t go back in time to change your
circumstances and fix everything, but you can certainly change how you
respond and possibly learn from that situation.

With all the wonderful things that self-compassion can provide, why is
it so difficult to practice? Why do we lack self-compassion? Sometimes
we listen to that inner voice that tells us to practice self-indulgence
rather than self-compassion. Self-indulgence numbs and denies what
you’re feeling, but self-compassion is about awareness and dealing with
your pain.

Some people feel that they need to criticize themselves because it’s
motivation. Kristin Neff says, “While the motivational power of
self-criticism comes from the fear of punishment, the motivational power
of self-compassion comes from the desire to be healthy, to reduce our

Many people have grown up with the idea of putting others ahead of
themselves. For them, self-compassion can seem like the opposite of what
you should be doing: taking care of others. So how can beating yourself
up help you to be kinder to others? The source of our compassion will
only be more authentic when we are able to show compassion to ourselves

We live in a society where we are taught to tough things out rather than
be kind and nurturing to ourselves. The more you resist pain, the more
suffering you will experience. The truth is that the strongest of people
are the ones who can feel genuine compassion for themselves and their
circumstances. So, go easy on yourself and practice some

For more information, call 309-692-4433. Agape Counseling, LTDF, is a
group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and
support staff committed to a therapeutic process that ministers to the
whole person. Their Peoria office is located at 2001 W. Willow Knolls,
Suite 110. The Morton location is 75 E. Queenwood Rd. Visit:

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