Musings + Essays

Approaches to Self-Compassion.

By: Jen Shoop

After the incident in which I drove my car through the garage door, a friend sent me a thoughtful email in which she shared a similar experience and wrote that it had been difficult for her to get over. After commiserating and sharing some of my insights and observations, I concluded: “I am now going to forgive myself and move on!”

This, in conjunction with my post on the subject and the comments and DMs I received in response to it, has led me to think a lot about the notion of self-compassion. I think that a big piece of processing these accidents has to do with the way that they suggest — rather forcibly — that you may not have an accurate read on who you are. For example, I consider myself a cautious, responsible person. I do not speed; contrary to Maryland convention (HA), I use my signal; I go to regular check-ups; I triple check things like plane tickets; I send reminder emails for upcoming meetings; I am responsive to email; I rarely misplace or lose items; etc. And so seeing myself as a person capable of carelessness was a jolt to the system. I have friends and loved ones who are accident-prone, or slightly spacey, or just generally a bit rough with their belongings. I love them no less for these traits, but somehow, if one of them had driven a car through the door, I might have thought: “Oh, that’s too bad, but it kind of tracks.” Seeing myself as the instigator really shook me. Am I not the person I think I am?

But no. I had to remind myself that such spiraling was unwarranted. I have a sizable track record to reference: 37 years of taking care. Zero car accidents to date. Not even a bumper scratch! (I am, in fact, an excellent parallel parker, a feat I attribute to living on R Street for several years after college.) This was an aberration, not proof positive that I have miscalculated myself for decades.

Once I’d worked my way around that mental hurdle, I found it helpful to reflect on the incident from another lens I picked up in some online reading: distinguishing between “moral faults” and “unskillfulness” at play in the situation. This disambiguation was helpful for me, as it led me away from the path of self-blame towards the realm of self-compassion. I feel that my mistake was closer to “unskillfulness” than it was to a meaty moral flaw. And so what to do but “refine my skill” — i.e., take on the practices of double checking the garage door, looking clearly in the rearview mirror, settling the children — and move forward?

I hope I have not belabored the point too much, but I share these detailed reflections with purpose because I know many of you share in my struggles with self-blame. For most of my life, whenever anything has gone wrong, I have blamed myself first, including for things I have absolutely no control over. Strangely enough, catching COVID at the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) represented a turning point for me. I was furiously upset with myself — how could I have put my family and neighbors at risk? what else could I have done not to catch it? did I not follow an aggressive-enough protocol? A few months later, I came across a post by a total stranger in which she shared that she’d caught COVID and then let fly an angry missive implying that because other people were not taking COVID seriously, not wearing a mask, etc, she’d caught it and imperiled her health. I was flabbergasted. I saw immediately that she and I had two completely different reactions to the same situation, only I had blamed myself and she had blamed the public. It seemed to me that — and no offense to this stranger, whose reaction was perfectly earnest and valid — neither of us were processing the situation fairly. The discovery made me realize how quick I am to self-blame, and how I could just as easily have blamed the world. The truth is, probably everyone in the equation holds some manner of responsibility, but certainly I was telling myself to bear a disproportionate amount of it. Things changed after that. I have become much better at pulling myself out of that hole and attempting to assess things with a bit more objectivity. My heart always leads me toward the path of self-recrimination, but my head now has the wherewithal to say: “Hm – let’s see about that.”

I shared some of these concepts in abbreviated form on Instastory earlier this week and then asked Magpies: “What do you tell yourself when practicing self-compassion?” The answers were moving and beautiful, and I thought I’d share a few that jumped off the screen:

“Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

“What you got done today was enough.”

“God has forgiven me so I can forgive me, too.”

“Will this matter in five minutes? Five days? Five years?”

And — just for good measure, a little humor: “No one likes perfect people anyway.”



+Earlier reckonings with self-blame.

+On catching COVID while entrapped in a New York apartment at the start of the pandemic.

+How we got through that tough time? “It begins with a prayer.”

+A strange case of mom guilt. Comments are super fascinating on this one.

+What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Shopping Break.

+Pretty spring floral — love the ties! — and also love this delicate ditsy floral from Ref, too.

+These best-selling joggers look like heaven. I will say that when I was sick with COVID and quarantined for 22 days in my NYC apartment, I ordered a couple of higher end athleisure pieces / pajamas and I have zero regrets, including these joggers from Recliner (which are SO comfortable but I don’t think particularly flattering) and a few pairs of jammies from Lake (this is my favorite style). I also was very close to buying a set of washable silk jammies from Lunya.

+I wear this exact straw Birkin bag all the time in the summer months. It’s the perfect size, and I love the way the brown leather handle looks with my brown leather Hermes oran sandals.

+Adorable striped top for summer.

+My boy would LOVE this bubble leaf blower.

+How darling are these ruffle-trim espadrilles?!

+FUN inflatable kiddie pool — almost the season! We have one from Minnidip that we love.

+Speaking of pools: how chic is this inflatable pool chair?

+Hanna Andersson has a really cute children’s rain coat out.

+And for al fresco drinks: I love this striped set from Frontgate or these colorful ones from West Elm.

+More al fresco dining finds here.

+Chic coffee table.

+Love this maxi-length floral shirtdress.

+Cutest scalloped mirror.

+These mary janes in the denim blue color are adorable.

+This Tory Burch dress is beyond chic.

+A roomy woven shopper under $30.

+Cute everyday dress for a little under $20.

+In love with these floral smocked girls’ dresses from Kidiwi. An investment, but so timeless and classic – you could pass down to multiple siblings/cousins.

+LOVE this cane clutch.

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7 thoughts on “Approaches to Self-Compassion.

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing on compassion really speaks to me. He says understanding is key — understanding brings compassion.

    This post led me to wonder: is carelessness a moral issue? In my observation, we generally judge others the same way we judge ourselves. Now we usually do not swirl as much about others’ mishaps (naturally, we are focused on our own lives primarily), but I feel like the judgment is often there, even if it’s subconscious. So, you love your spacey, accident prone, careless friends — then why is establishing yourself as NOT careless so important?

    I guess I see self-compassion and others-compassion as the same thing. And what I’m getting at with this inquiry is the question: can we really claim to give others’ behavior a true pass of acceptance when we berate ourselves for the same behavior? I don’t know. Maybe we can. I suppose I am seeking a deeper understanding of compassion at large. Clearly, I need to read more Thich Nhat Hanh 🙂

    1. Hi! Interesting points — I am not familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh, but lots of food for thought from what you presented. I don’t know how to receive the theory that (paraphrasing your words) if you can’t forgive yourself, you aren’t truly able to forgive others. It is difficult for me to swallow that — I suppose you are putting pressure on the notion of “forgiveness” (like what, actually, is it?) and judgment, so perhaps more for me to reflect on there.


    2. I suppose I am! At some high level, are compassion, forgiveness, and even acceptance the same?? Maybe. Is that a helpful “level” in day to day life? I don’t know. I also think I’m sensitive because an adult perfectionist had a big influence on my childhood. I think she would say she doesn’t hold others to the same standards as she holds herself, but I disagree? Especially as a kid, I FELT the expectations, etc.

      Anyway! Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who recently died. He’s probably most famous for helping MLK Jr. during the civil rights movement. After the Vietnam war, he was exiled (for speaking up against the war itself, the monks never took sides which caused both sides to revile them) and opened the Plum Village Monastery in the south of France, which is an amazing place. I have found everything I’ve read by him profound. Ostensibly simple, and deeply profound. If you ever want to dive into his work I think “Being Peace” and “How to Love” are nice places to start. 🙂

      Happy Easter!! Xo.

  2. I agree with Sarah. The traits you describe are classic of perfectionists. I am included in this group, and am in therapy to help break it down. It’s really hard. It’s not that you are a careful person, I’d say, it’s that you seek to be perfect. And you can’t be. And for a perfectionist, the times that bubble is burst (and it will be burst because you cannot be perfect, but rarely because you exert a huge amount of energy to try to be perfect), it will be earth shaking. It connects to constant anxiety that you might make a mistake and not be perfect, followed by inevitable anxiety/worry/upsetting feelings because, shocker, you are going to make an occasional mistake. It’s an awful structure that, for me, has been compounded by becoming a mother. Ugh. Just sending you empathy/support/solidarity, and I encourage you to do what you can to try to release yourself of those feelings.

    1. Hi E — I so appreciate your vulnerability; thank you for sharing. It really unlocked something in me when I saw myself “from the outside” by comparing my reaction to that other woman’s when we both caught COVID, and it also helps to hear from other women like yourself who share tendencies similar to my own. Thank you!


  3. I too am inclined to blame myself for everything. I think this is also because I set impossibly high expectations for myself, without even realizing it. Honestly counseling has really helped me work through this and I highly suggest it! I come from a very loving family but most of the self blame and expectation setting was established in my early years. As always, thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable!

    1. Thank you, Sarah Katherine, both for the words and for the gentleness of tone! Helpful (encouraging?) to hear from you and E above that have grappled with similar sentiments.


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