Sunday, September 5, 2010

Self Compassion

In working with unhappy people I've noticed something that many of them have in common - they almost universally treat themselves unkindly.  When they make a mistake they berate themselves severely and attribute their error to the fact that, as people, they are utter failures.  They "encourage" themselves to work harder by constantly reminding themselves that they are not good enough.  They blame themselves when something goes wrong, even when there is no possible way they could have caused it.  Given their incessant self abuse the fact that they are unhappy is really no surprise.

What does surprise me -- again and again, no matter how many times I see it -- is how attached to this way of thinking some people are.  With most people, I need only to point out that the way they treat themselves is a significant part of the problem and that it has to change if they ever want to be happy.  The desire to move beyond the cloud of depression and self doubt is usually enough to motivate people to begin to make changes.

Then there are those I encounter less frequently, who cling rigidly to their ways of thinking even after it becomes clear that they are hurting themselves.  This stubborn attachment speaks to how deeply entrenched their depression has become.  It is not enough to teach them how to treat themselves better because they do not believe they deserve better treatment.  I have to be more creative, to work harder, to think differently if I have any hope of helping them learn to be happy...

My intention when I began writing was to stress the importance of self-compassion.  For those who easily make the shift from treating themselves unkindly to practicing self compassion as well as for those who need to be convinced that they are worthy of such treatment -- learning to be compassionate towards oneself facilitates self love.  When we love ourselves we are able to love others more fully and without expectations that they will fulfill for us our unmet emotional needs.  When we love ourselves we are able to love others as they are and for who they are.  We don't need them to change to accommodate us.  When we love ourselves we can love others unconditionally, without needing anything from them in return.


  1. May I ask what creative techniques you have come up with? This is a struggle I have experienced with clients as well and sometimes find it difficult to work through.

  2. Great post! I relate so much to this, becuase I'm one of those perfectionistic types who tend to berate themselves.

    I think changing those thought patterns is so difficult. Teachers like Cheri Huber have helped me a lot to at least isolate and identify the voice of judgement and self-hate in my mind, and get some slight bit of separation from it.

    To me, it feels like the old thought patterns have worn a very deep groove in my psyche - and changing them takes constant, compassionate, effort and attention.

    Thanks for this interesting post! :)

  3. Alesha -

    I think basic mindfulness skills are a good approach. Also, when I teach clients about how cognition affects mood I often start by having them just monitor themselves for a while and writing down the times when they feel strong negative emotions. I ask them to identify the belief that triggers the emotion. I don't even worry about trying to get them to challenge the belief, at least not at first.


My Favorites