Why do we find being kind to ourself so challenging?

by | 14 Nov 2022 | Mental Health, Wellbeing

Self-compassion is treating ourself with kindness when we are finding things hard. It allows us to acknowledge our feelings and not feel alone in our difficulty. Research shows multiple benefits of self-compassion, yet many of us find it challenging in practice.

Why is self-kindness challenging?

As with so much of how we think and feel about ourself, there are links to messages we received when younger, and the behaviours witnessed around us. This might have included:
  • Being taught to always put others first. We can gradually embed this as feeling we should not be kind to ourself.
  • Constantly being encouraged to improve with the outcome that we felt whatever we did wasn’t good enough, so we developed our own internal critic.
  • The belief that we had to drive ourself to improve. If we showed self-kindness we were ‘letting ourself off’.
  • Feelings of low self-worth so we didn’t feel we deserve kindness.
  • The belief that being kind to ourself was self-indulgent or selfish.
  • Experiencing how those around us responded when we got upset or were in difficulty. Was it acknowledged or were we encouraged not to show it.
  • Witnessing how those around us behaved when they were upset or experiencing difficulty.

What are the benefits of changing your approach?

Contrary to misconceptions being kinder to ourself has multiple benefits for our health and wellbeing.

Self-compassion makes us stronger mentally and more resilient when things go wrong, in turn reducing fear of failure. If we don’t fear failure we are more likely to try things or try again.

The strongest evidence relates to mental health. A lack of self-compassion is linked to significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression.

There are also positive links to happiness, optimism, and worrying less.

Can we learn to be kinder to ourself?

Our habits may be ingrained but with practice we can change how we treat ourself.  Initially it may feel a bit uncomfortable if we are not used to using kind language towards ourself – although can when talking to others. 

It may feel a bit ‘soft and fluffy’, but remember there is clear evidence that the outcomes in life many of us are seeking are more likely to be achieved with the approach of self-kindess rather than self-criticism.

Try this self-compassion exercise

This exercise adapted from the self-compassion break (Neff, 2018), is a simple way to practice self-compassion in the moment. 

  • Notice what is happening to you. Name what is causing pain.  Use a short simple statement for example, I feel overwhelmed.
  • Gently place your hand on your heart. Go with this even if it doesn’t feel comfortable as it is a very soothing action.
  • Recognise you are not alone in how you feel. Again make it a short sentence for example, everyone feels overwhelmed at times.
  • Think about what you need right now to show kindness to yourself. Find a statement that is helpful and supportive to hear. For example this is hard but it will pass. This speaks directly to the part of you that is hurting.


If you find this hard to do in the moment, notice your thought and come back and reflect on it later to help in similar situations in the future.

Next time you catch yourself being self-critical or judgmental practice the short exercise above. Notice how it feels. Appreciate the kindness and understanding in your time of difficulty.

Contact us below for more details

The power of self-kindness is one of the topics of the Unleashing You – an evidence based programe for personal growth, increased performance and enhanced wellbeing. To learn more please contact us on 01202 612 326 or through the options below. We’ll discuss details and how we can help you or your organisation.


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