Self-Compassion: What is It and Why is It So Difficult to Live It?


Self-compassion week not easyCompassion is defined as an understanding appreciation of another’s distress with a desire to relieve it. In comparison, self-compassion is simply that same accepting awareness with the desire to ease one’s suffering turned inward. When stated this way, it sounds as if it’s just as easy to be compassionate to ourselves as to others, but in real life it’s not.  Why?

Why is it that we feel compassion and we want to help our fellow-strugglers, but we often struggle to feel the same toward ourselves when facing our own failures? Why do we often criticize ourselves (sometimes harshly) when we falter and fall? Why are we so much tougher on ourselves than on anyone else when it comes to our faults and flaws?

Why Self-Compassion So Difficult

There are countless possible reasons why we find fault with ourselves when we fall short and we feel compassion towards others when they fail to meet the mark. Many of us have heard and accepted society’s battle cry, “Don’t show your weaknesses!” At the same time, we are also trying to obey our schizophrenic society’s call to “Be more sensitive!” As a result of this paradox, we forget to love ourselves as we love our neighbor. What about you? What societal paradox are you trapped in?

Personally, I think both my pride and my humility play a role in my struggles to be compassionate towards my imperfect self (maybe it’s my pride about my humility). When I examine my stiff upper lip, my sensitivity, my pride and my humility, I find that I have many misconceptions about self-compassion: I often think that I don’t deserve self-compassion because of my misunderstandings of the term and how it applies to me.

Take Time to Understand Self-Compassion

When I take time to logically think about it, I can effortlessly recognize the following about self-compassion:

  • It is not “self-esteem” or comparing oneself to others.

  • It is not “self-centeredness” or making oneself better than others at all costs.

  • It is not “self-pity” or getting stuck thinking about all the negative things about life.

  • It is not “self-excusing” or letting oneself “off the hook” for improving one’s life.

It is none of these things. In fact, over the years, I’ve found that once an individual develops true self-compassion, he quits comparing himself to others, he quits trying to be better than others, he seeks less pity, and he becomes more focused on striving to make his life better.

Learn to Practice Self-Compassion

According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D. at the University of Texas, self-compassion has three parts. In this set of articles, I have remained true to Dr. Neff’s model, but I have adjusted it to try to meet the unique needs of the individual who struggles with executive functioning difficulties, based on my clinical experience of over 20 years. Watch for future posts on these three important components of self-compassion:

Self-Compassion: Embracing Your Humanness

Self-Compassion: Practicing Self-Kindness to Quiet Your Self-Critic

Developing Mindful Mindfulness (Awareness)

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© 2014, Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D.

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