Misconceptions and Blocks around Self-Compassion

Within this blog, I will write about:

-Why do we resist offering ourselves compassion?

-5 misconceptions of self-compassion.

-Why we get stuck and why we can stay stuck (not offering self-compassion).

– Pain versus suffering.

-A new equation for pain and suffering.

-The distinction of what pain and suffering are.

-(Throughout the blog) Some ways for how to practice self-compassion.

-It’s not your fault!

You Belong

Kristin Neff, a leading researcher of self-compassion writes, “But we seem less sure about self-compassion. For many, it carries the whiff of all those other bad “self” terms: self-pity, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-centered, just plain selfish. Even many generations removed from our culture’s Puritan origins, we still seem to believe that if we aren’t blaming and punishing ourselves for something, we risk moral complacency, runaway egotism, and the sin of false pride.”

And, I could not agree more. I have experienced each of those whiffs of “self” terms at one point in my life or another. And, through Kristin’s identifying of 5 misconceptions of self-compassion, I have come to understand more clearly what self-compassion is and what it is not. It has helped me become more self-compassionate in fact. And, I hope it supports you as well.

As I continue this blog series on ‘Mindfulness as a Path to Self-compassion’, which I made a course for this year (June, 2024), I would love to hear from you. What is coming up? What are some struggles and strides you are noticing? Let me know!

As we begin today, it can be good to go back to some past blogs in the previous weeks to remind yourself of “What is mindfulness anyway?” and “What is Self-Compassion Anyway?”.

Let’s take a “whiff” of what Kristin Neff was getting at with her quote that I started with. What are some misconceptions around what self-compassion is not?

5 Misconceptions of Self-Compassion:

*As drawn from Kristin Neff HERE.

  1. Self-Pity:  “self-compassion is an antidote to self-pity and the tendency to whine about our bad luck.

This isn’t because self-compassion allows you to tune out the bad stuff; in fact, it makes us more willing to accept, experience, and acknowledge difficult feelings with kindness—which paradoxically helps us process and let go of them more fully.”

Self-compassion is not self-pity and this isn’t because self-compassion allows you to tune out the bad stuff, it actually makes us more willing to accept, experience, and acknowledge the difficult feelings and experiences that we can have in our lifetime. This is why that is a bit of a paradox; that self-compassion can help us process and help us let go of those self-pitying thoughts.

For example, those thoughts when one might degrade ones self. Or, when we fall into a false belief system and narrative that says “oh woe is me,” or “this is my fault,” or “I can’t do anything about this.” Self-compassion helps us with just acknowledging what it is that is our situation. We name it. Self-compassion is the acknowledgment of what is and then wants to help.

Compassion is action. It is kindness that evokes the desire to help.

2. Self-compassion is a sign of weakness: “Researchers are discovering that self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience available to us. When we go through major life crises, self-compassion appears to make all the difference in our ability to survive and even thrive.”

Self-compassion is not a sign of weakness. This one was really big for me because I felt I’d let myself off the hook and then I would judge myself as weak if I didn’t take action or if I didn’t think I could handle an emotion or if I didn’t I was showing up 100 percent ALL the time! Kristen Neff has found in her research, and other researchers as well, that “self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience available to us when we go through major life crises. self-compassion appears to make all the difference in our ability to survive and even thrive.”

When I think back to the time I had an illness that eventually left, yet was undiagnosed, it was a challenging practice to offer myself compassion. I could walk and talk, no fever, but my knees hurt so bad I couldn’t get tot he floor. I was fatigued and my hands and feet were swollen to the point that I thought my toes looked like little mini hot dogs! This affected every bit of my work and I had to cancel multiple days of clients and classes.

I was physically weak, but as I moved through each choice day-by-day, each choice made with self-compassion made me feel more capable that I could take care of myself. I became stronger with my Inner Self in acknowledging what was possible for me and what wasn’t.

I began to wrap myself in a softness that opened my own heart to me. Each moment enable more depth of seeing myself as important and worthy of rest, love, and caring kindness. I am grateful to have also experienced that around me from others, but to begin to feel it for myself was a whole new level.

How do you deeply take care of yourself? How will you care for your well being? Hint: There isn’t one way, and each of us can find our ways!

3. Self-compassion will make me complacent: Again, Kristin Neff, “Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it’ll undermine our motivation to push ourselves to do better. The idea is that if we don’t criticize ourselves for failing to live up to our standards, we’ll automatically succumb to slothful defeatism. But let’s think for a moment how parents successfully motivate their children….

A STORY (continuation of Kristin Neff writing):

“When Rachel’s teenage son comes home one day with a failing English grade, she could look disgusted and hiss, “Stupid boy! You’ll never amount to anything. I’m ashamed of you!” (Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Yet that’s exactly the type of thing Rachel tells herself when she fails to meet her own high expectations.) But most likely, rather than motivating her son, this torrent of shame will just make him lose faith in himself, and eventually he’ll stop trying altogether.

Alternatively, Rachel could adopt a compassionate approach by saying, “Oh sweetheart, you must be so upset. Hey, give me a hug. It happens to all of us. But we need to get your English grades up because I know you want to get into a good college. What can I do to help and support you? I believe in you.” Notice that there’s honest recognition of the failure, sympathy for her son’s unhappiness, and encouragement to go beyond or around this momentary bump in the road. This type of caring response helps us maintain our self-confidence and feel emotionally supported. Ironically, even though Rachel wouldn’t even dream of taking the former approach with her son, she unquestionably believes that self-flagellation is necessary for her to achieve her goals. She assumes that her anxiety, depression, and stress are a result of her not trying hard enough.

But there’s now a good deal of research clearly showing that self-compassion is a far more effective force for personal motivation than self-punishment.”

Experiment/Experience Practice (my offering to you):

Think of your own story now. *Don’t pick a situation that is SO overwhelming that you can’t stay present, breathe, or be able to witness what your experience is.*

Maybe there was a life change and things took a turn for the worse, whether unexpected or not. Maybe your boss yelled at you, or maybe you moved homes and it was just hard. Maybe something personal was happening behind the scenes that nobody else would have known at the same time, like taking care of an ailing parent or a sick child. Adapt the above story to your own personal lived experience of an uncomfortable time in your life when you didn’t feel as if you were living up to any level of capability or expectation.

As you draw that experience into your minds eye, notice your felt sensation in your body; is it tight, tense, stabbing, churning, gurgling, tingly, numb, etc.? What inner self dialogue is happening; what thoughts come in, what stories are you believing? How does your heart feel; hurt, broken, sad, torn apart, deflated?

Now, pause to just notice all of this. Just breathe with your awareness of what is, just as it is, without judgement, so you do not start to identify who you are with what has happened.

Take some deep, slow breaths and begin to speak words to yourself that are kind and caring. It’s ok if this doesn’t feel easy right now, just experiment. You can say, “I am sorry that happened. What do you need?” You can say, “I know it hurts and I am here with you.” Or, “I love you no matter what.” Or, “I see you are hurting, how can I help to ease your suffering?”

If the words don’t come, let them go. Try bringing into your mind someone or something that is the symbol of compassion, kindness, and even love. Maybe someone you know, a Spirit guide, a mentor, a friend, a deity, a loving pet you had or have. Maybe its a place that always makes you feel surrounded by peace, support, and unconditional acknowledgment and acceptance; such a place in nature, a temple, church, a pilgrimage place, or even the place of your own heart.

Try placing your hands over your heart right now. Physically lay your hands on your heart and breathe.

Just sit in the presence of this nurturing essence for a while. Allow yourself to release into this supportive, non-judgmental energy that is kind, caring, and compassionate. Keep sitting in this Presence of Awareness. Keep noticing whatever might shift.

Through this practice you are not trying to change or fix what happened; you don’t have to like what has happened, just offer yourself this space. Offer yourself this time of gentle, tender, compassionate attention. Keep breathing WITH yourself, not against yourself, as I wrote last week.

Take a moment to notice any effects from that practice. You do not need to self-deprecate or punish yourself in order to have a seat at the table. Your seat has always been there. It’s there now. Love yourself to go sit in the circle of ALL things! And no, this is not you being egotistical, selfish, or self-absorbed…

4. Self-absorbed: self-esteem vs. self-compassion: “But self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Although they’re both strongly linked to psychological wellbeing, self-esteem is a positive evaluation of self-worth, while self-compassion isn’t a judgment or an evaluation at all. Instead, self-compassion is way of relating to the ever-changing landscape of who we are with kindness and acceptance—especially when we fail or feel inadequate. In other words, self-esteem requires feeling better than others, whereas self-compassion requires acknowledging that we share the human condition of imperfection.”-Kristin Neff

Self-compassion can help us accept moments when we have won, obtained a goal, received an award, or received congratulations. AND, perhaps more importantly, self-compassion holds us in those moments where we feel like we have failed; and that is where self-esteem brings us down. Self-esteem would cause us to go in a downward spiral of ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I didn’t work hard enough,’ ‘It’s all my fault.’ Whereas self-compassion doesn’t judge and doesn’t compare.

That’s a big one too, because I feel that a lot of people have this internal high self-expectation they set upon themselves.

Consider perfectionism for a moment. I resonate with this one, you? Ask, ‘is this a self-expectation that is so beyond what’s actually possible, it so high that it’s out of reach?’ And if so, feel how that can affect how we are with our self! If it’s an unobtainable, unrealistic goal or expectation, self-compassion is going to be have to work ALL the time, OVER time! And remember, self-compassion will still move us to take action, going back to that complacency misconception, but rather, self-compassion can also support us in acknowledging the situation and what is possible. And then we can ask ourselves, what’s the next step?

We can have big dreams, and I’m a supporter of that! And goals! So when they are bigger goals that we might not be able to complete tomorrow, self-compassion will be break it down; saying, “ok, what’s the next little step?” I’m thinking about this in a daily practice….

Have you ever had a list-to-do so long that you could not complete it in one day?! **When I spoke this in my talk the other week I giggled because SO many people’s heads were nodding YES with me! I was not alone. You are NOT alone! (More on this shared humanity next week!)

When we can’t get the whole list done we take a breath in self-compassion. Self-compassion reminds us to ask instead, “what is possible today?” What a different place to move from, to live life from. Instead of telling ourself, “I didn’t get it all done, oh my God what am I going to do?” To, “I did my best. I gave what I had to give, and i am still enough.” It’s such a big difference.

  • A little side note: I really love this one… about “lists to do”. Get a different paper or draw a line down the middle of your paper and on one side make a list to do and on the other side make your list of Being! A List-to-be! I don’t remember whom I read this from years ago, the list of being, so I can’t give credit to where it is due, but it was not me. How do you want to Be? For example, I want to be happy, I want to be confident, I want to be grounded, I want to be peaceful, I want to be healthy, I want to be more physically fit, I want to be Free, I want to Be Me. Let the two lists support each other!

5. Selfishness: “Many people are suspicious of self-compassion because they conflate it with selfishness. …  good, generous, altruistic souls, who are perfectly awful to themselves while thinking this is necessary to their general goodness.

But is compassion really a zero-sum game? Think about the times you’ve been lost in the throes of self-criticism. Are you self-focused or other-focused in the moment? Do you have more or fewer resources to give to others? Most people find that when they’re absorbed in self-judgment, they actually have little bandwidth left over to think about anything other than their inadequate, worthless selves. In fact, beating yourself up can be a paradoxical form of self-centeredness. When we can be kind and nurturing to ourselves, however, many of our emotional needs are met, leaving us in a better position to focus on others.

Unfortunately, the ideal of being modest, self-effacing, and caring for the welfare of others often comes with the corollary that we must treat ourselves badly. This is especially true for women, who, research indicates, tend to have slightly lower levels of self-compassion than men, even while they tend to be more caring, empathetic, and giving toward others. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, given that women are socialized to be caregivers—selflessly to open their hearts to their husbands, children, friends, and elderly parents—but aren’t taught to care for themselves.

….. The irony is that being good to yourself actually helps you be good to others, while being bad to yourself only gets in the way.”-Kristin Neff, article

When we know how to do it to ourself and offer self-compassion and kindness, we will know how to offer it to others.

I put selfishness specifically last because of that irony; that if we’re bad to ourself, that actually gets in the way of life, of self-compassion, of growth and positive experiences. If we’re mean to ourselves, if we’re unkind to ourselves, that actually gets in the way in almost every aspect of life.

And, what else gets in the way? I am going to go there now, but first, a message for you:

I say this sometimes in my yoga classes. I will literally, explicitly say “Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act, it is a selfless act!” Taking care of yourself, which is what self-compassion is, is not a selfish act, it is a selfless act! For those in the back…

“Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act, it is a selfless act!“-Shawna Emerick, in yoga classes.

What else gets in the way of our ability for self-compassion?

-physical pain

-thoughts (stories)



-generational trauma


-what we were taught and/or what was exemplified

-societal impressions

-cultural impressions

-spirituality groups / impressions

These aspects of ourselves and the human condition are intricately connected. While a detailed exploration of each would require many more weeks of writing, today’s blog serves as a starting point to encourage YOUR self-compassion!

Our conditioning, influenced by our upbringing, culture, and societal expectations, can impede self-compassion and the ability to offer ourselves kindness.

Just to draw from one aspect of the above as an example; generational factors can play a role in separating us from our own self-compassion. The way we witnessed our parents or other caregivers cope with their own challenges during our childhood can influence how we care for ourselves. This can include observing positive examples or identifying behaviors that we don’t want to emulate.

Recent research in epigenetics explores how generational traumas can be passed down through generations, further emphasizing the complex interplay of factors that shape our self-compassion. I started reading a book recently called, “It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are And How To End The Cycle” by Mark Wolynn. So far, it’s pretty fascinating.

I named a lot of other items on my list. Perhaps you can think of some others within yourself, or some examples from your life as you look at the list. Where are you not acting in kind ways to yourself, and where do you feel you are doing a good job of self-care? Where do you harm yourself through words or actions, and where are you nurturing yourself? Where do you blame and judge yourself that adds weight to your pain? And, where you can practice softening and bringing in self-compassion to lessen that weight and shed the blame and judgement?

This self-kindness versus self-judgement is one of three elements that Kristin Neff describes when talking about self-compassion. The other two are common humanity versus isolation and mindfulness versus over-identification. See here.

Christiane Wolf, a prominent teacher in mindfulness practice, particularly focused on pain, challenges the conventional notion that “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” She reflected upon this equation, especially when considering physical pain, and created an equation that felt more resonant to her. Wolf proposes an alternative equation:

“Suffering = pain x resistance (or worry)”

This equation suggests that suffering is not an unavoidable consequence of pain but rather a result of our resistance or worry about the pain.

We acknowledge that pain is an inevitable part of life. It can manifest physically, such as chronic pain, or emotionally, such as the grief caused by the loss of a loved one. Pain can also stem from the feeling of not being supported by the universe, leading to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. This equation, often referred to as “the resistance,” illustrates that pain is a significant factor in determining our level of suffering. The more intense the pain, the greater the resistance, and thus, the more pronounced the suffering. Understanding this equation is crucial for addressing and overcoming the challenges we face in life and with the practice of self-compassion!

Recognizing that certain types of pain are inevitable and accepting them on any level can lead to reduced suffering. If we don’t resist, we tend to suffer less. It is understandable if you feel resistance, skepticism, or doubt upon hearing this idea. You are not alone in this experience. The practice of self-compassion involves acknowledging and accepting these feelings without judgment. And then we can begin the practice and change the equation in our favor!

In the context of the mathematical equation “suffering equals pain multiplied by resistance or worry,” I’d like to clarify the distinction between pain and suffering in the English language. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference. To illustrate, let me give you two examples.

Consider getting a tattoo. From what I’ve heard, it can be painful. However, because you know the pain is coming, you can take steps to prevent suffering. During the tattooing process, you might focus on your breath, repeat mantras, or use other coping mechanisms to help you endure the pain and create a space of acceptance around it.

In this scenario, the physical discomfort of the tattooing process represents pain. Suffering, on the other hand, is the emotional and mental distress that can accompany pain if we resist or worry about it. By acknowledging the difference between pain and suffering, we can better understand and manage our feeing responses to challenging situations.

So, dear reader, go back to the equation now with this knowledge of distinction of pain and suffering. Reflect on what you may be adding to the situation that intensifies your discomfort. Are you inadvertently contributing to the heaviness and weight of the pain you have already experienced and endured? Instead of perpetuating self-criticism, try to cultivate self-compassion.

Try this phrase, “It is not my fault.”

It might be conditioning from generational trauma. How you spoke or acted in a way you might not have liked could have been from your understanding of culture you were born in to that is not in alignment with your Highest Self and does not support your well-being. Perhaps it was societal expectation of how you “should” act that caused you do be in misalignment with your Highest Good and therefore you let others have the say in your life and it caused unease and suffering. And that is NOT YOUR FAULT!

It is not your fault! And, you now have choice to move forward in your life of choosing self-compassion!

More to come next week for remembering your Innate Goodness and why you DO need to start with your Self, your heart, your body, your wisdoms, and your well-being!

All my compassion to you,