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Emmy* works part-time and has 2 young children, aged 3 and 5. She feels exhausted and tired with all the demands of the world, her boss at work, husband and 2 children. Emmy helps out with her parents, as her mother has not been very well recently, and her 90-year old grandmother has dementia. She has been feeling increasingly anxious and is now on the brink of a breakdown.

Emmy always prioritises others and struggles to ask for help. She often offers to help out with events in her community and is also asked to help out because she is seen as someone who likes to contribute and gets things done. She sets high standards for herself and criticises herself for not being a good enough mother and a partner. At times she feels angry and resentful but tells herself that she doesn’t have the right to feel this way, because her life is so perfect in many ways.

Was there something about Emmy’s experiences that you identified with?

I wanted to write this post about self-care and self-compassion, because so many people struggle to practice them. Instead of just suggesting different ways to practice self-care and self-compassion, I wanted to think about some mindset related reasons that are contributing to your struggle to practice good self-care and self-compassion.

What are self-compassion and self-care?

Self-compassion is about being our own best friend and being kind to ourselves, accepting that making mistakes is part of being human and we all are in the same boat. The third aspect of self-compassion is being mindful of our feelings and accepting them as part of ourselves (Neff, Here is an earlier post I wrote about self-compassion: Shrink the inner critic – Self-compassion leading to a happier life.

Self-care refers to nurturing ourselves and looking after ourselves like someone who has our best interests at heart would care for us. Self-care can take many forms, such as taking time to look after your physical needs (e.g. a good balanced diet, enough exercise and rest), emotional needs (e.g. acknowledging your feelings and needs, being self-compassionate, setting boundaries with people and having fun!) and perhaps also spiritual needs (e.g. practicing gratitude).

I have also written this post “Why are self-care & self-compassion so important for our well-being?”

If you would like to kickstart your self-care and become more self-compassionate. We are running a FREE 10-Day Self-care & Self-compassion Challenge. Learn more about it here.

Limiting beliefs that stop you from practising self-compassion and self-care:

Do you struggle when it comes to being kind to yourself, looking after your needs and doing nice things for yourself? It is easy to say I don’t have time, but often we might have limiting beliefs and behaviours that deep-down impact on the way we treat ourselves.

Do you recognise any of the following thought patterns:

  1. “I don’t deserve being taken care of or self-compassion”
  2. “Being self-compassionate means that I won’t achieve things in life, I will become lazy.”
  3. “Self-care is self-indulgent or selfish.”
  4. “I have to perfect to be loved, not to justify my mistakes with compassion.”
  5. “I must not have needs, they don’t matter”
  6. “Others are a priority, my time is later”
  7. “I must not disappoint anyone – I have to say yes to avoid disappointment.”
  8. “I cannot prioritise myself – I need to please people to be loved”
  9. “The world is a bad place and unfair. I am very unlucky in life, whilst others are luckier”

Tick how many statements you recognise from the above list?

Reflection points:

How do they play a part in your everyday life and how you look after yourself?

How will your life look like in the future if you carry on like this?


Why you might have developed blocks for self-compassion and/or self-care?

There can be a multitude of reasons why you struggle with self-care and/or with self-compassion. Here are some possible reasons:

It may be that you never had a role model who whilst looking after you also looked after themselves. Maybe they passed on a message that it is selfish to take care of oneself or someone else should do it. You are in charge of your own life and only you can look after your needs.

If you grew up with a parent(s) who was not emotionally available to you for whatever reason, you may have experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and it may be difficult for you to take of you and support yourself because your early caregiver did not make you feel like your feelings needs mattered. As an adult, it may be a struggle to start changing the patter. You can read more about CEN here.

If you were abused as a child and your boundaries were violated, it could mean that you developed beliefs about you as not valuable and you may struggle to take care of your needs. You may also struggle with setting healthy boundaries, if you have developed a view of yourself as deserving of kindness and (self)loving. Here is a link to an earlier post series on Childhood trauma & recovery.

If you grew up in a family were individual boundaries were enmeshed and there was little room for you to have your own space, you may feel guilty for wanting to have your own personal space. You are entitled to have it. We all have a personal space and need healthy boundaries. Perhaps the message from your family was to be a “good girl” or a “good boy”, you learnt that you have to be in a certain way to be accepted and this might mean that you must not have needs of your own. Perhaps you had a parent who was ill and your role because the care-taker from a very early age.

Societal and cultural ideas about how we should be. Often there is a lot of shame around being kind to oneself and looking after one’s needs. Even if on some level the society is moving towards an individualistic society, but on the other hand the message is that you should be everything to everyone at all times.

How can I make myself a priority in my life?

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”

What small steps can I take today to start prioritising myself?

  • Slow down, listen and get in touch with your feelings, emotional and physical needs
  • Look at the list of blocks for self-care and self-compassion, identify your reasons and challenge those thoughts by finding evidence both for and against.
  • Set a small, pre-planned goal of self-care for every day – think about small things that you can do today.
  • Evaluate your boundariesThink about what am I happy with? This will give you an indication where your boundary is.
  • Treat yourself like your best friend would.
  • Delegate and ask for help from a supportive friend or a family member when needed, rather than try to do it all by yourself.


Hope you found it helpful to think about what might be making self-compassion and self-care more difficult for you. The more you start to notice times when you either engage in being self-critical or deny your own needs or prioritise someone else’s, the more informed decisions you can make about changing your behaviours to support your well-being.

If you are struggling with self-compassion and/or self-care and are looking for a therapist, take a look at my services page here.

*The case of Emmy does not refer to any actual past or present client, it is merely a combination of life stories I have heard over the years.

©2017 Dr Mari Kovanen, CPsychol. All rights reserved.