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Compassionate Accountability - A Take on Fierce Self Compassion

Updated: Apr 9


Woman writing down her goals

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, chances are you are really hard on yourself. This is why self-compassion is an integral part of treatment. Self-compassion teaches us to be tender with our own suffering, just as we would with others. Contrary to popular belief, this practice is not self-indulgent - rather, it helps us be with parts of ourselves that we often try to push away. From that place, we can make changes, achieve our goals, and show up as a kinder version of ourselves. 


There are three elements of self compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness simply means that we are kind and gentle with ourselves when we slip up. When we have an urge to criticize ourselves, we pause - and choose to meet our imperfections with kindness. Common humanity helps us remember that we’re not alone, and that all humans make mistakes and are imperfect. These emotional experiences connect us to others, knowing we aren’t alone. The mindfulness piece teaches us to be observers of our thoughts and feelings, rather than getting swept away with them. It helps us experience challenges from a defused state, where we can make choices that align with our values - rather than a desperate escaping of uncomfortable sensations. 


In addition to the three elements of self-compassion, there are also two sides. A yin and a yang - a tender, soothing force and a “mama bear” force. We need both to be in balance - especially when we’re making challenging behavioral changes. Fierce self-compassion is taking action to alleviate our suffering, protect ourselves, and work towards our most value-driven life. Kristen Neff, the founder of self-compassion, highlights why we need both: 


“Tenderness without fierceness becomes complacency, but fierceness without tenderness becomes hostile and aggressive” 


With both integrated and in balance, we become a “caring force” that can make long-lasting changes. In anxiety treatment, fierce self-compassion can also be called compassionate accountability. This accountability comes in because you care about yourself, and believe that you deserve a life that supports you - not because you’re worthless if you don’t make the changes. Compassionate accountability may look like:


  • Noticing urges to avoid therapy homework, but doing it anyway - because you believe in your recovery goals 

  • Choosing to go for a walk rather than scroll on your phone, because I deserve fresh air & a break from screens 

  • Running errands on a day where you’d rather avoid, because you deserve a less stressful week ahead 

  • Setting boundaries within relationships, because you know you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness 

  • Attending a social event that elicits anxiety, because you’ve been wanting to make more connections & strengthen social skills 


If you are used to motivating by beating yourself up, this will feel like a sharp turn. Changing from threats and criticisms to a compassionate accountability method will feel odd for a while. A metaphor I often use with my clients - is ‘switching the fuel source’. If we picture a car, we’re swapping from gas to electric. The destination can be the same, but we’re switching fuel sources on the journey to get there. The great news is, we can arrive at the destination (our goals) with more energy and a gentler way of being.


Madeline Moersch, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA specializing in the treatment of OCD and Anxiety Disorders.

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