It’s Selfish, It’s Hokey, and I’ll Lose My Edge: 3 Half-Truths About Self-Compassion

Dr. Diana Hill dives into some of the biggest misconceptions around self-compassion, and what the latest research reveals about being intentionally kind toward ourselves and others.

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I’m a late adopter of a lot of things. It took me two years to get an iPhone, a lot of convincing to wear AirPods (which I still call ear pods despite my son’s cringe), and it took me even longer to drink the “self-compassion” Kool-Aid.  (Which I guess I drank because I wrote a book on how to practice self-compassion daily!)

Why such reluctance to embrace the research-backed practice of self-compassion? I believed three things about self-compassion that turned me off. But I’ve since learned, they are really only half-truths.

1. Self-Compassion is selfish

We think that being kind to ourselves is self-indulgent and self-focused. Yet the research shows that when you practice self-compassion, you are more likely to:

If you are a parent, you probably know this firsthand. When you practice caring for yourself, you are less likely to have your stress spill over onto your kids. But there is a half-truth to self-compassion making you selfish.

  • Men who practice self-compassion but also score low on conscientiousness show more selfishness in their relationships 

In other words, if you are worried that self-compassion will make you selfish, focus more on how giving yourself compassion will help you be of service to others. One body-based practice I like to do with this concept is a simple breathing exercise:

Breathing in, I take in care and understanding.
Breathing out, I send out care and understanding.

2. You’ll lose your edge

There is a large body of research showing that self-compassion actually helps you perform better, not worse.

  • People who binge-eat underwent self-compassion intervention following a negative mood induction, and they ate less sugary foods than those who were primed to be self-critical

Self-compassion helps you stay on track with your wisest values and goals. The half-truth? When you practice self-compassion you may choose to lose your edge a little…in good ways.

As you learn to listen more to your body and stop berating yourself for mistakes, you naturally may want to give up on pushing yourself in ways that are harmful. I’ve lost my edge when it comes to having to run every day, getting every email returned in a timely manner, and making the perfect dinner for my family (hello Trader Joe’s frozen aisle!) … and that’s a good thing.

When my clients are struggling with whether or not they should push themselves at something, I ask them to do what contemplative leader Stephen Batchelor suggested to me: Drop the question into your belly. If you struggle with self-criticism or rigid rules, your belly is likely to have a more compassionate answer than your head!

3. Self-Compassion is hokey

It can feel uncomfortable to say nice things to yourself, and sometimes downright cheesy. I rarely recommend clients cheer themselves on with the “Good job” or “Way to go!” statements that some motivational coaches suggest. 

Self-compassion is relating to yourself in a way that is encouraging, warm, realistic, and just right for you. You don’t need to recite a list of loving-kindness mantras or put your hand on your heart if you find those practices hokey. Sometimes self-compassion is as simple as noticing the part of you that is scared and being with it a little longer.

The half-truth? When you practice self-compassion, you just might start to adopt some hokey platitudes toward yourself. But hey, they are platitudes for a good reason, right?

Be gentle with yourself.

Give yourself a break.

You’ve got this.

To learn more about how to bring self-compassion into your daily life, read The Self-Compassion Daily Journal by Dr. Diana Hill or listen to the Wise Effort Podcast.