Is It Wrong to Be Compassionate Towards Your Own Self?

Morning friend,

I am on a cruise in Alaska speaking for the American Association of Christian Counselors. This Arizona girl hates the cold, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I bought some of those little foot and hand warmer packets and I will activate them to keep warm. I’ll send a picture for next week’s blog.

Questions: I love your podcast so much! I was listening to the self-esteem one and had a question. How do you distinguish between the limitation of “I can’t be a neurosurgeon” (where you accept it and move on) and the low self-esteem thinking of “I can’t write a book” (I know it’s not yet and ask God to help or bring others to help)?

Also is spending time learning “Self-compassion” such as different self-talk okay as a Christian? I was listening to material on self-compassion and how to change my self-talk to be encouraging but I got afraid I was being self-absorbed and relying on myself for comfort instead of God. Is this a common hurdle for Christian women to have resistance to view it as being selfish?

Answer: Thank you for your questions. It shows that you are working on getting healthy and learning to think about and read God’s word in new ways and think for yourself. 

I’m going to start with your second question about treating yourself with kindness and compassion rather than critical harshness or judgment. First, let me remind you that God is a God of compassion, full of lovingkindness (Psalm 86:15; Psalm 145:8; Exodus 34:6). If we are to grow to become more and more like him (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 1:4), wouldn’t kindness and compassion, even towards our own self, be a part of that growth? 

What is healthy, good, or godly about being harsh, condemning, critical, and judgmental towards yourself or others? The Bible tells us that our words are powerful, and that would also apply to the words we use on our own selves. We are told not to judge others. Would that not also include yourself? Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation if we are in Christ Jesus, so wouldn’t self-condemnation be the opposite of what God shows you?

I think the mistaken idea around this thinking goes something like this. When you mess up, if you’re compassionate towards yourself then you’ll give yourself a pass. You’ll excuse your sin or your character defect instead of changing it. If you are truly repentant, you would hate yourself, beat yourself up, and condemn yourself until you’re so sick of your sin you’ll change. Sound familiar? Sometimes what sounds true, is not true.

We see people who are brutal with themselves and still stay stuck in the same addictions, lifestyle sins, and immaturity. Judas hated himself for what he did and instead of repenting, he was filled with shame and self-hatred and hung himself (Matthew 27:3-11). That kind of self-condemnation gives the devil a foothold in every way. Satan is the master deceiver and accuser of our souls. (John 8:44, Revelations 12:10-12). Why would we want to act more like him than like Jesus?

Jesus didn’t beat Peter up when he betrayed him. The risen Christ didn’t beat Saul up when he met him on the road to Damascus. He didn’t agree with the religious leaders to have the woman caught in the act of adultery stoned. He willingly initiated a conversation with a Samaritan woman, which was something no respectable Jewish man would have willingly done. 

Having compassion on a person as well as yourself does not mean ignoring reality or excusing sin or the impact it’s had on us or others (Ephesians 4:32). It means we take ourselves to the cross with humility, gentleness, and compassion (Galatians 6:1). We are to speak the truth in love, even to ourselves (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking truth without love is like chewing on bitter herbs, very tough to take in and swallow. It’s noise, not loving correction or wisdom (1 Corinthians 13:1). 

You also asked if relying on yourself for comfort means you are not relying on God. I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. Or if you do one thing, then the other can’t be true as well. God comforts in the way only God can (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). And there are times it’s perfectly reasonable, appropriate, and necessary to provide comfort/care for your own self Ephesians 5:29). 

I remember watching a good friend of mine slather lotion all over her legs when we were rooming together during a speaking event. It touched me how she ministered kindness to her dry parched legs and feet after a long day of standing and walking. I’ve been compassionate to my exhausted and tired body by taking a hot bath and going to bed early, sometimes leaving a sinkful of dirty dishes for another day. Maybe a kind word after you’ve blown it yelling at your kids, not excusing your outburst, but showing compassion for your regretful mom-self. 

Paul tells husbands to love their wives as their own selves, for no one hates his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29). Jesus tells us to love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). The golden rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31; Matthew 7:12). Don’t you think that the world, including the church, would be a much more appealing place to have meaningful nourishing relationships as well as stimulating conversations if we all treated one another and ourselves with kindness, respect, and love? That we showed compassion towards all of God’s image bearers and not just the ones that look like us? Not just the ones we like or agree with politically or spiritually? After all, isn’t that what Jesus said of his disciples, that they would be known for their love for one another (John 13:35)? Compassion does not erase the truth. It wraps itself around truth to make it easier to hear and take in. 

Your second question was about understanding the difference between accepting your honest limitations, (living in truth) such as I do not have the size or enough talent to become a professional basketball player, versus telling yourself “I can’t” and getting stuck in never trying or stretching yourself to reach lofty and difficult goals. 

I think it’s both/and. When we believe we have limits we stay stuck at those perceived limits. Closer to the truth is when we think this way (fixed mindset) which limits our own growth potential. For example, when people believe “I’m not “good” at math or basketball or art, they believe that means they can’t do it. However, those who exhibit a different mindset (growth mindset) don’t think the same way as those with fixed mindsets think. Growth mindset individuals understand that they can “learn” to be good at math or basketball or art if they work hard at it, get coaching or tutoring, and develop those skills. Now realistically no one would work hard at something if they didn’t want to learn it. However, having a natural aptitude or innate talent does not limit your ability to learn or grow in this skill unless you have a fixed mindset. For me, I didn’t naturally excel at writing. No teacher in elementary school, high school or college ever wrote on my papers, “You are a good writer.” Yet, it was something I learned to do as I applied myself to learning it. Carol Dweck has a great book on this called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Someone can learn to be excellent at art, or a sport, or at math, and still have real limitations in terms of professional success or making a decent living. If we live in a comparison world, there are people who will be more talented, more physically endowed, and better at something than we are. I’ve written 7 books but none of them have been New York Times best sellers. Does that mean I can’t write? No. Does that mean that my books have not had an impact? No. But I could have never made a living on the sale of my books alone. But that does not mean anything to God’s view of impact or how he wants you to use your gifts and talents. Paul tells young Timothy “Fan into flames the gifts God has given you.” (2 Timothy 1:6-8). Who does that for you if you don’t? That means stewarding the gifts and talents that you know you have and opening yourself up to the possibility that you have some hidden abilities and gifts that you will need to develop and work at to bring to maturity. 

We all have to live within limitations, but don’t let your mind determine those limits. Stretch and grow yourself into your best self. God is ultimately responsible for how your gifts and talents get used, but don’t allow them to lay dormant because you were afraid or never put in the work to develop them because you believed a lie that you couldn’t do it. 

Friend, how do you show self-compassion towards your own self? 

4 Comments

  1. Lori Visser on June 26, 2024 at 8:21 am

    This was an excellent article! I don’t think I’ve ever heard this topic explained so well…thank you for your wisdom😊

  2. I'm finally learning: self compassion is a reflection of worthiness and value... on June 27, 2024 at 3:58 am

    Thank you, Leslie. To me, the essence of self-compassion, and compassion for others, is to understand the value and worth that God gives to and sees in every person…myself included.

    This post resonated with me on two fronts:

    One of my mother’s oft-repeated phrases was: “Anything good you do, isn’t you, it’s God. Anything bad you do, is all you.” I was taught to be kind, gentle, patient, forgiving…to everyone but myself. It’s my impression that this was a common teaching in conservative Christian circles, particularly to girls.
    I know my mother had the best of intentions, but the message I received was that anything I ever accomplished was not ever a reflection of my hard work; it was either God’s choice; that my work should be credited to someone else; or pure chance. Any joy I might feel in a job well done, was squashed as selfishness and evil “pride”.
    This view left me without an understanding of having any agency over my own life; any confidence in my talents, skills, or accomplishments; or any compassion toward myself for mistakes I made along the way.
    Another analysis would be: God has value; you don’t. Now ladies, I know the Bible verses too: “I can do all things through Him…” etc. I would gently point out that as Leslie and team have said before, God doesn’t make anyone do anything; our choices and actions are our own.
    He values us intrinsically, not for our accomplishments and not in spite of our failures. To me, that is the essence of compassion.

    Secondly, a way I have recently learned to show myself compassion is to pursue my interests and business ideas without sharing them with my husband. Why?
    In short, for many years, each time I shared a new business or art idea with my husband, his response has been: “Why would anyone pay for that?” (The response when others are present is entirely different, although just as demeaning: “Isn’t this great?” as though I am a kindergartner proud of a “picture”.)
    I am showing myself compassion by sharing my ideas and projects with those who are supportive and appreciative, who give constructive feedback and encouragement. I no longer feel guilty about not sharing my ideas with someone who, when there is no audience to hear how “supportive” he’s being, consistently belittles them.

    While my early training, similar to many others I would guess, left no room for error, I have come to learn that I do “deserve” compassion, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness…exactly as everyone else does. This has been something of an epiphany for me. I have compassion for my mother and her teaching, knowing she was trying to do what she thought was right. I also have compassion for my past self, and the choices I made along the way.

    Mostly, now, I find new freedom in knowing that I can learn and experiment, showing myself compassion for errors, and celebrating learning, growth and accomplishments…both my own, and others’.

    • Ashley on June 29, 2024 at 9:35 am

      Wow. Thank you for chiming in with your experiences. I am going to print it out and keep as s self reminder as I work on myself!

      From your sharing, I sensed you have done much inner works in your journey and have applied many healthy mental, spiritual and emotional truths along the way. You have experienced what works and what needs tweaking.

      Your example and analogy of your mums phrase in life and about value gave me much thoughts. I’m glad you pointed out the ways we think as christian women as opposed to what it’s supposed to be. I’ve been there, done that and realized some things need to change in the unhealthy “churchy” perception, something I had learnt from Leslie’s sharing as well.

      Thank you again, your sharing has blessed me today. What a wonderful reminder to pursue what’s good and healthy for me and not think it’s selfish or self indulgent. Self compassion! And, no to shame and guilt to put me first, so that I can afterwards, help others along the way, if and when the need arises. I cannot give what I do not first possess.

      • “ finally learning” on June 30, 2024 at 3:31 am

        Thank you, Ashley! You are a blessing to me!
        A few minutes ago I was wondering, “ Should I have posted that? Will it make sense to anyone?”

        I came back to Leslie’s blog to remind myself of what she said : “ We all have to live within limitations, but don’t let your mind determine those limits. Stretch and grow yourself into your best self. God is ultimately responsible for how your gifts and talents get used, but don’t allow them to lay dormant because you were afraid or never put in the work to develop them because you believed a lie that you couldn’t do it. ”

        Today, I was very much feeling that I couldn’t accomplish my goal of making a living as an artist, telling myself I’m too old at 60…I haven’t solidified my ideas and techniques into something salable…it isn’t what I was trained for…thank you for reminding me that I HAVE accomplished some learning and growth along the way. I’ll be brave and keep persevering. And I’ll pray that you are encouraged in your growth too. Hugs!

Leave a Comment





Ask Your Question

Have a blog question you'd like to submit?

Read More

How Do I Keep Hope Alive?

Morning friends, Pray for me. I know many of you do and I deeply appreciate it. I would love to have more time to be still, to ponder some deeper things that God is showing me and somehow I have to carve out the time to do it. I’ve also promised myself that I will…

Read More...

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

Morning friend, Today’s Question:  God wants to save everyone, but He also doesn’t force anyone. That is what I have been taught all my Christian life. But Saul was so against everything around Christianity, but God met him and saved him. He had this experience and became Paul. However, Judas was with Jesus and yet…

Read More...

My Husband Constantly Blames Me

  Morning friends, I’m snowed in today. Yesterday too. It’s beautiful but cold. I feel like I’m in Chicago instead of Pennsylvania. Many of you feel like you are in the desert place. Some are tempted to despair. We must fight that feeling. Thomas Merton writes, “The desert is the home of despair. And despair…

Read More...