Common Barriers to Self-Compassion & How to Overcome Them

Westwood Total Health


I can tell that some of you are already turned off by just reading the title of this post. Self-compassion – yuck! For some people it’s the word that bothers them, for others it’s thoughts about self-compassion, and yet for others, it’s both. If it’s the word that bothers you, maybe just think of it as kindness or care while you read. If it’s your thoughts, then you’re in the right place because that’s what we’re talking about today.

Kristin Neff is the leading researcher in the world on self-compassion. She defines it as: “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience.” It includes three components:

  • Self-kindness – through words and actions
  • Common humanity – acknowledging that all humans suffer
  • Mindfulness – “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Most of us don’t engage in enough self-compassion. In fact, most of us seem to be pretty hard on ourselves – self-critical, the opposite of self-compassion. This is likely because as children we are taught to be kind and compassionate toward others. Rarely, if ever does someone tell us we’re supposed to offer that kindness and compassion to ourselves.

So, all that being said, what are these common barriers, or thoughts, that so many of us have about self-compassion.
“it’s self-centred or selfish”: The research has found that people who are self-compassionate are actually far more caring toward others.
How can I overcome this barrier?: Try a lovingkindness meditation, in which we practice extending kindness to ourselves and others.
“it’s weak”: The research has found that it makes us more resilient, in both adverse events and with chronic pain.
How do I overcome this barrier?: Try putting a kind hand on the part of your body that hurts when you’re in a difficult situation or having difficult thoughts or feelings.
“it’s self-indulgent”: The research has found that it makes us engage in healthier behaviours, including eating well, exercising, and going to the doctor.
How do I overcome this barrier?: Try going for a compassionate walk – a walking meditation where you send compassion to each person you pass by.
“it will make me less motivated”: The research has found that it motivates us more! This is due to having less of a fear of failure and an increased sense of personal responsibility.
How do I overcome this barrier?: Try some self-compassion journaling, in which you non-judgmentally write about the difficulties you had, write kind words to yourself in response, and connect to common humanity (we all suffer).
As you do any of this, you might just have to let your mind chatter away like a radio in the background. Our minds often try to talk us out of doing things that might be helpful, because our minds believe they know it all. And look, there are a few more reasons to engage in self-compassion:

  • You’ll have greater positive affect and happiness.
  • You’ll have higher life satisfaction.
  • You’ll have lower levels of depression and anxiety
  • You’ll have better physical health and be able to cope better with diagnoses, pain, etc.

Don’t take it just from me though. There’s a ton of information on Kristin Neff’s website:
And of course, better yet, just try it for yourself and see what happens.