Caring for Yourself

On , In Soul
Mind Body Soul Sauna with chair and towels folded

By Larcy Dunford MC LPC BCACC

According to Kristin Neff Ph.D. from the University of Texas in Austin, developing the habit of self-compassion involves taking more personal responsibility for your health and well-being. So what is self-compassion? And what are the obstacles for people in this perspective and practice?

According to Neff (a well-known researcher in the study of self-compassion), self-compassion is:

“Treating yourself like someone you care about with support, encouragement, and concern.”

It involves concern (opening your heart) and the motivation (prioritizing) to do something about your negative emotional experiences and your physical well-being. 75% of people feel more compassion for others than for themselves.

What are the obstacles?

Many people believe it is weak to ask for help. The research shows that the opposite is true.

“Self-compassion is the biggest indicator of strength and resilience. ¹”

David Svarra, a Researcher at the University of Arizona, studied couples going through a difficult divorce. He found people who were kinder to themselves did much better over the long haul, compared to those filled with judgement and shame.

Svarra states:

“My research program has two main arms. (1) Prospective change: the variables that predict emotional recovery over time and the psychological mechanisms explain why some people do well or poorly in the wake of a loss experience. And (2) determining how psychological responses to loss are associated with health-relevant biological responses and the ways in which psychology and biology change together as people face difficult relationship transitions.”

In other words, biology and psychosocial well-being are related!

Another obstacle for people is the belief that self-compassion is selfish, self-indulgent, or even a form of self-pity. “All of these ‘myths’ are inaccurate,” according to Neff. ¹

Consider Susan, a 38-year-old realtor with three kids and a loving husband. She is a deeply kind person, devoted wife, involved parent, supportive friend, and hard worker. She finds time to volunteer for two local charities and makes time for all school events and her children’s other activities. In short, she appears to be an ideal role model.

Susan experiences high levels of stress. She’s tired all the time, depressed, unable to sleep. She experiences chronic low-level digestive problems and sometimes she yells at her husband and kids. Through all this, she’s incredibly hard on herself, always feeling that whatever she’s done isn’t good enough. Yet she’d never consider trying to be compassionate to herself. She is quick to take her children to a doctor or a therapist the moment there is any sign of trouble. Yet, she believes it is selfish and irresponsible to care for her own emotional and physical well-being. Women are socialized to be caregivers who selflessly open their hearts to their husbands, children, friends, and elderly parents but aren’t encouraged to care for themselves. She would benefit from an integrative medicine clinic where she would be treated as a whole person–physically and emotionally.

Men are often socialized to be problem solvers and disregard physical and emotional pain. Usually they try to figure things out themselves. It is not that they aren’t struggling, it is that they often don’t ask for help!

Christopher Germer, PhD is a clinical psychologist and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He writes:

“Burgeoning research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with reduced stress and enhanced wellbeing, and a wide range of other positive factors such as improved relationships; better physical health; stronger immune functioning; healthy lifestyle habits like diet and exercise; decreased anxiety, depression and substance use; enhanced emotional resilience and coping ability; and wisdom.” ²

We ALL need more of that!


  1. Self and Identity, 2: 85–101, 2003 Copyright # 2003 Psychology Press 1529-8868/2003 DOI: 10.1080/15298860390129863 KRISTIN NEFF University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA
  2. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion Christopher Germer PhD The Guilford Press; 1 edition (April 29, 2009) ISBN-10: 9781593859756
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