Why are you crushing yourself? Stop punishing yourself

When something does not go as expected, reproaching us is a double punishment that we do not deserve. Instead of treating each other harshly, we should be kind to ourselves.

As a psychiatrist, I have always been shocked by the cases of patients who mistreat themselves.

Of course, the physical abuse (incisions, blows) with which borderline people injure themselves are known. But more surprising are the psychological aggressions that many patients inflict when outwardly they do not seem so bad.

This invisible violence can take the form of insults (“what an idiot!”), Self-deprecation (“you”re a disaster”) or self-attacks triggered by disappointment linked to failure. Or to present the face of insidious and constant self-persecution: reproach yourself, denigrate yourself at the slightest incident.

About this one day one of my patients wrote to me: “As soon as I have difficulties, I immediately begin to blame myself, to accuse myself, to feel responsible, incapable, pathetic; then, once I”ve calmed down, I try to reflect. Often, I continue to find reasons to accuse myself, but I am a little less violent, whereas, at first, I am willing to hit myself or throw myself out of the window”. Why do we add to an external adversity an aggressiveness that comes from within? Why can”t we say to ourselves, “Don”t hurt yourself. Never. Life already takes care of that ”?

Because we lack self-pity. Because we are not usually attentive enough to this fundamental dimension of our well-being.


Self-compassion consists of being attentive to our sufferings (instead of ignoring them), trying to alleviate them (and not punishing ourselves or sinking in them), being kind and understanding with ourselves (instead of treating ourselves with distance, harshness, contempt or violence).

Self-compassion is one of the three keys to inner balance, along with self-esteem and acceptance:

  • Estimate: “I have value and ability.”
  • Acceptance: “Although it is imperfect, beyond what I do I deserve to exist and be loved.
  • Self-compassion: “I must not hurt myself when I suffer, nor punish myself when I fail. On the contrary, in those moments I deserve attention and comfort

Lack of self-compassion is a major source of distress, because it adds suffering to the problems already posed by everyday existence. In addition, it is generally accompanied by resentment towards oneself, shame and guilt, which produce a kind of ‘superinfection”, of ‘suppuration” of suffering.

This lack is a real obstacle to the processes of repair and healing of our psychic wounds, because we neither offer ourselves comfort nor accept that of others.

Self -injurious states of mind also prevent time from playing a calming role because they always bring to our consciousness supposed failures or past deficiencies, they return us again and again to our discomforts. They also incite us not to take into account, not accept or respect our suffering.

Long before psychiatrists, philosophers had identified the phenomenon.

  • Montaigne put it this way: “Of all diseases, the wildest is to despise our being.”
  • And even longer ago, the Latin poet Lucrecio noted: “Everybody wants to run away from himself, but nobody succeeds. We remain prisoners of a self that we detest ”.


It is simply a matter of understanding that it is normal to take care of yourself; to understand that having the feeling of failure or feeling inferior is a universal human experience (for which it is useless to judge yourself, to punish yourself ); to be able to accept and distance yourself from your own failures or difficulties (do not judge yourself too quickly or identify with the problems).

There are many therapeutic strategies for developing self-compassion.

I sometimes recommend that my patients use little mantras . In Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the mantra is a very short phrase that is repeated regularly to impregnate it. It is a term from Sanskrit that means “instrument to protect the mind.”

I know it may seem a bit naive, or perhaps rigid; But, in practice, phrases like these are little automatisms calling for order when our inner demons bring self-destructive formulas to our mind such as: “You are useless”, “You won”t get it”, “You don”t deserve it”.

Having repeated self-care mantras regularly, for example during relaxation exercises or meditation, can help us transform them into mental automatisms. Not so that we become robots, but to limit other automatisms, those that our past has sown in us, and offer us the time to reflect with tranquility.

This approach has not been the subject, to my knowledge, of any scientific study to validate it (or to invalidate it). Quite simply, many of my patients have adopted it spontaneously and say to me, “Now every time I fail, there is a little voice in my head that says, ”Don”t hurt yourself.” And those changes everything ”.

By practicing self-compassion, is there a risk of self-indulgence or of ending up feeling sorry for yourself? Apparently not. Self-compassion often brings more feelings of personal responsibility (we admit problems, if necessary, rather than defend or deny them), but without falling into abusive and useless guilt.

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