When Self-Compassion Becomes Self-Sabotage

Yes, it’s very possible to give yourself too much of a break

Jillian Kramer
Elemental
Published in
5 min readAug 21, 2020

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Photo: PM Images/Getty Images

Maria wanted to make a budget. The 27-year-old customer experience representative — newly married and normally quite organized — had put herself in charge of the task in the hopes of socking away some extra savings. Then the pandemic hit, and all budgeting bets were off. Instead of wrapping up her remote-work days in front of a new spreadsheet, she’d stretch for an hour of yoga to temper the general overwhelm she felt. “I’d say to myself, ‘This is what you need right now,’” she tells Elemental. Maria said it almost every day.

It was, Maria reasoned, the self-compassionate thing to do: Why tack a stressful item onto her to-do list when she was already feeling defeated by Covid-19 and quarantine? A quick workout or a long binge session were kinder to her mental health than making a budget, Maria decided.

But her self-care routine was causing harm: Maria was delaying setting savings goals. And fees were hitting the couple’s savings account because they weren’t keeping the required balance in the bank. “I would say, ‘Meditating right now will put me in a better headspace than calling people at the bank and sitting on hold for 40 minutes,’” Maria explains. “I was losing money because I couldn’t sit down and do this thing. I was telling myself to do yoga instead.”

Paul, a 45-year-old business owner in Ontario, Canada, says he tried to avoid coronavirus-related stress by cutting his work hours. “I thought the pandemic was a prime opportunity to take some time to myself,” he says. But he fell behind on emails and even lost some clients. “Ironically, that made me more stressed than I was before I took a break,” he says.

Covid-19 has been relentless in its daily horrors. In an attempt to manage stress and sadness, many have turned to self-compassion, looking for the breaks an overworked brain so desperately needs. Done purposely, that proverbial slack is a healing salve; but done incorrectly or in excess, that slack is no longer self-compassion — it’s self-indulgence and sabotage, experts say.

“I was losing money because I couldn’t sit down and do this thing. I was telling myself to do…

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Jillian Kramer
Elemental

Jillian Kramer is a journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Travel + Leisure, and more.