Is Self-Compassion Biblical?

I’ve had the privilege of doing lots of radio interviews after the release of my book two months ago: Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. During the course of these interviews and talking with lots of people

I’ve answered lots of questions, including Is Self-Compassion Biblical?

I’ve decided to do a series of blog posts answering these questions. I hope they are helpful to you, and I welcome your input. These questions seem to come from three directions:

~ Those who truly wanting to understand self-compassion in light of Biblical truth. I share a love of the Bible as well and have a deep desire that anything we learn is held up to it’s light of accuracy.

~ Those who are afraid of the idea of being loving and compassionate with themselves for a variety of reasons, and have a rather harsh reaction to the idea of being compassionate with ourselves.

~ Those who have great difficulty holding two concepts at the same time. In this case, being able to see oneself as full of worth and value, created by God as well as one who has a sin nature and needs God and His salvation. Many people find it challenging to see ourselves with both grace and truth…at the same time.

Many of these questions are addressed in my book, and I welcome the chance to give additional input as I’ve had the privilege to get input from a lot of people.

First of All, Let’s Start With a Definition of Self-Compassion

It is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.

Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address mistakes directly).

Grace and truth together mean you acknowledge a negative that happened without either minimizing it or making it more than it was, and at the same time apply compassion to yourself. Self-compassion helps us handle our humanness and the situations we are in with empathy, concern, understanding and kindness.

Self-compassion is a gentle way we relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling as well as when things are going well. It’s like treating yourself as you would a friend who is struggling, learning something new, scared or confused.

Is Self-Compassion Biblical?

Answer Yes! Biblical Basis:

~ Mark 12:28–31

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

 

~ Ephesians 4:25-32 tells us how we are to love our neighbors:

“Therefore each of you must put o! falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Notice these verses…especially the last one. If we are to do this for one another, why wouldn’t we also do this for ourselves? We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

 

~ Galatians 5:22–23 is another passage than can inspire us to treat ourselves in a biblically sound way. This wisdom applies to our interactions with others as well as ourselves.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

These verses describe characteristics that emanate from someone who is yielded to the Holy Spirit. When we are in tune with him and connected to him, we naturally experience and express these characteristics toward everyone—including ourselves. What a difference it would make to us internally as well as to those in relationship with us, if we treated ourselves in this way.

Love   Joy   Peace   Forbearance   Kindness   Goodness  Faithfulness   Gentleness   Self-Control

 

~ II Cor 13:10 – Paul shares that we are to be gentle with those under our care, which includes ourselves

“This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.”

 

By Stark Contrast…Self-Condemnation is Not Biblical*

~ Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This includes condemnation for your own self.

~ When Peter betrayed Christ he felt remorse, but in his self-examination he developed humility and gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness (Luke 22; John 21)

~ When Judas betrayed Christ, his self-condemnation drove him to commit suicide. (Luke 22; Matthew 27) Which is more biblical?

~ Jesus describes Satan as a liar and deceiver but he also accuses the children of God (John 8). Therefore when we have accusing and condemning voices in our head, I don’t think that is from the Holy Spirit but from the evil one and we should reject it promptly.

~ Proverbs is full of warnings about the power of a word and reckless words piercing like a sword. When we are constantly self-critical we create the very same bodily response (fight, flight or freeze) internally as would happen when someone else is constantly critical of us. That compromises our immune system and causes relational problems, which is not being a good steward of our life, body or health.

* Thanks to Leslie Vernick for these thoughts as we collaborated on a blog post together, Self-Compassion is Strength, Not Weakness.

I really enjoyed sharing this first question with you today. I care about each and every one of you, and would love to hear your response to what I shared. Please share with others who might benefit via e-mail or social media.

Comments, Please….

What was your response to this question? What made sense? What do you disagree with or wonder about? How does this discussion impact you?

 

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13 thoughts on “Is Self-Compassion Biblical?

  1. Thank you. I’ve been asked more than once about Phil 2:3-4 with regard to self-compassion. I know how growing in self compassion has helped me in my relationships with myself, God and others. I am at peace with my understanding of its value, but I do see how this verse appears to say otherwise. Can you help?

    1. Phil 2.3-4 is in the context of Paul’s exhortation to church unity so naturally rivalry and conceit are counterproductive to unity. And that humility is necessary for unity. Verse 4 explicitly says that we are to look not only to our own interests, which is to say that our interests do have value in fact just as much as others’ interests. When it comes to the counting of significance in Phil 2.3, to count others as more significant is not to count ourselves as insignificant. We always need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. So we need to understand these verses in light of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If your love of self is tepid, then your love for your neighbor would be weak too. I think the danger is moving from self-compassion to conceit or self-indulgence, but surely they are not the same thing.

  2. Thank you for this post! I came across it through an online search.
    I had been wrestling with this, the spectrum between self-criticism and self-compassion. Your contrasts of Peter and Judas helped even more as you presented the dichotomy of self-examination and self-condemnation.
    Interestingly, I don’t remember encountering self-compassion being explicitly taught – at least in the New Testament – and have been wondering why that is. How are we to love ourselves so that we can best love others? They very book of Job has a full chapter on when he cursed the day he was born.
    It’s a theme that has major implications in the body of Christ today, particularly as members are caught between justification by works and works of faith. It just seems that followers of Christ are urged on in self-improvement, fuelled by constant self-criticism and criticism by others.
    I will continue my journey on this theme since I find it quite intriguing. Thank you for your writings. I thank Holy Spirit for guiding us all into truth.

    1. Hi Sims,

      Thanks so much for your comment. So glad it was helpful! I wrote my book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend because there was nothing written about self-compassion from a faith perspective. I hope it will be helpful to you as well. I’m currently working on a new book that will be released in November, Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. I help parents be compassionate with themselves as they parent, and teach them how to teach their children how to be compassionate with themselves. So appreciate your encouragement!

  3. “When we are constantly self-critical we create the very same bodily response (fight, flight or freeze) internally as would happen when someone else is constantly critical of us.” That’s such a powerful and true statement. Thank you for sharing these verses, and thank you for being an advocate for self-compassion in a world that desperately needs that message!

    1. WOW, I had never considered this. I am an MFT trainee and have been experiencing a resurgence of unprocessed emotions and traumas from my own life as I learn how to be a therapist. This has led to my default mode of intense self-criticism and extreme fear of rejection which has caused me the feel this desperate panic and need to flee. Wow… I can see what I am doing to myself and how I put myself into this flight mode. I have been hearing about how I need to have more self-compassion for myself and I cannot truly be compassionate towards others unless I can be compassionate with myself. I struggled with this because I wasn’t convinced it is a Biblical concept. THANK YOU FOR THIS!

  4. This is exactly what I needed direction on, and you explained it beautifully. I have struggled all of my adult life with constant chronic inner stress leftover from how I was raised. I was recommended a self-help book that I started using with amazing, peaceful, self-compassionate results. I definitely involved God in the process, and felt a closeness to the Holy Spirit that I had never encountered before. And I had so much more compassion and closeness with my family, more than I had ever been able to express and experience before. But then came doubt and confussion…is this Biblical? Am I outside of His counsel and into works of self? So I stopped this practice of self-compassion and soon found I was back to feeling really crummy and chronically stressed. I have been praying and searching for an answer for about a month now, and just came across your blog. Thank you! The use of scripture answered my exact questions, and I feel more confident that I was on a good path with self-compassion. I look forward to reading your books.

    1. Dear Lauren, I’m so glad that my post was just what you needed. God is so good to provide what we need. I so appreciate you sharing your journey with us. You have such a good heart to do what is God’s will in this area. Many blessings as you seek to integrate a compassionate relationship with your faith. 🙂

  5. I just came across this post and it is SO good! I am doing research on a youtube video that I am creating talking about these points and you pointed out so perfectly how to look at self-criticism through the bible. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      So glad this article was helpful. Wonderful! My book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, has a lot more helpful information about this topic as well as self-compassion from a faith perspective. I also just released a book about Self-Compassion as we parent called, Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. I hope they are a help to you. Thanks for all you are doing to look at self-criticism through the Bible!

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