Be Kind to Yourself: Attachment & Self-Compassion

the capacity to be kind to yourself

It can feel like second nature to give ourselves a hard time over doing something we regret - in fact, we tend to do so more often than we realize. But there is an alternative. 

Self-compassion is the ability to be kind to yourself. It means turning support, love, understanding, and acceptance inwards. Essentially, it means acting towards yourself in the same way you’d act towards your best friend… especially during tough and challenging times.

compassion, being kind to a friend

Most of us find it easy to show kindness, warmth, and empathy to our loved ones when they feel down. And yet, when it comes to ourselves, we become the biggest critics and often end up heartlessly punishing ourselves for the tiniest mistakes. 

Even when it seems such an attitude is “not a big deal,” it is. Self-compassion, and self-love in general, are important. They are essential for your well-being, peace of mind, and physiological health [1]. During stressful and difficult situations, in particular, the ability to be kind to yourself has the capacity to also decrease levels of anxiety and depression [2]. 

“If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.”

Charles Bukowski

Another central reason why self-love is a key ingredient to a healthy life is that your relationship with yourself sets the stage for all other relationships in your life. Thus, self-compassion will likely be a strong predictor of the quality of your personal relationships. 

Now, all of this might seem damning if you are someone who tends to be rather harsh on themselves. 

At this point, those of you who have a hard time treating themselves with kindness might be wondering…

  • Why is self-compassion so easy for some people and so challenging for others?
  • Do attachment styles influence self-compassion?
  • Why is it so important for our well-being?
  • Can you cultivate self-compassion?
  • How will the ability to be kind to yourself improve your life?

For this blog post, we have put together various research findings with the aim to answer these questions and more. 

What Is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion means treating ourselves with kindness and without judgment and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, flaws, and inadequacies. 

In 2003, Dr. Kristian Neff developed and validated a six-factor scale for measuring self-compassion [3] – Self-Compassion Scale [SCS]

Neff theorizes that self-compassion includes your capacity to:

  1. Show patience, understanding, and tolerance towards your own flaws and mistakes – especially during tough times.
  2. Understand and believe that mistakes and defects are a natural part of being human, and that everyone else is going through difficult situations at some point in their lives too.
  3. Be mindful of your emotions and maintain a sense of perspective and objectiveness when you feel distressed.
  4. Not be harsh, judgemental, cold-hearted, or disapproving of your shortcomings and inadequacies.
  5. Retain a sense of connectedness to the world even when you feel down and believe you have failed in something.
  6. Let go of negative thoughts and emotions instead of drowning in them and letting them overwhelm you.

Interestingly, in 2020, a study separated these six factors into two constructs – self-warmth and self-coldness – and theorized that they are not simply two sides of the same coin [4]. Instead, researchers claimed that the two constructs have a different way of affecting our mental health [4].

Here’s where our attachment styles also come into play. But before we get into that, let’s first review why attachment plays a role in our ability to cultivate self-compassion.

Why Are Self-Compassion and Attachment Related?

Our first attachment relationships set the stage for how we interact with the world later on. But what we learn in those relationships also forms our perception of ourselves and our attitude towards ourselves. 

parents teach you to be kind to yourself

This concept is similar to Bowlby’s idea that people often end up treating themselves in the same ways their caregivers treated them during early childhood [5], [6]. In line with that idea, Neff and McGhee (2010) suggest that when caregivers are compassionate and comforting when their child feels distressed, the child adopts that behavior towards themselves later in life [3]. 

When caregivers are compassionate, warm, understanding, kind, and supportive towards the child, their child acts the same way towards themselves later on.

On the other hand, attachment is closely linked to the way we handle and regulate our emotions. Compassion – and self-compassion in particular – have a lot to do with our sensitivity towards our own and others’ suffering. The way we respond to that suffering is therefore rooted in our ability to understand, tolerate, hold, and deal with emotions [7], [8]. 

Caregivers who are accepting and empathetic towards their child’s emotions usually facilitate the formation of a secure bond between themselves and the child. Consequently, children who experience that sense of warmth, reassurance, and openness typically grow up with strong emotion regulation skills. Early childhood attachment thus influences our capacity to exhibit self-compassion in adulthood. 

Self-compassion is based on the ability to understand, tolerate, and deal with negative emotions efficiently. These skills are strongly influenced by our childhood attachment relationships. 

How Does Attachment Influence Your Capacity to Be Kind to Yourself?

Self-compassion has a strong connection with the two dimensions of attachment: anxiety and avoidance

Existing literature reveals several connections between insecure attachment (and its two dimensions – attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety) and self-compassion. We’ve synthesized some of these in the list below.

Both attachment anxiety and avoidance relate to [4]:

  • Having a hard time being kind to yourself
  • Lower self-warmth
  • Lower levels of mindfulness (a factor that contributes to self-warmth)
  • Higher levels of self-judgment (an indicator of self-coldness)
  • Self-coldness, which leads to lower quality of life and depressive symptoms

The negative relationships between attachment anxiety and self-compassion seem robust across studies. However, research demonstrates mixed results when it comes to attachment avoidance and self-compassion [4]. This is due to the link between attachment avoidance and positive self-image.

People with high attachment anxiety tend to see themselves in a negative light and overestimate their mistakes and defects. People high on attachment avoidance, on the other hand, tend to minimize their flaws and shortcomings. Therefore, some studies have failed to indicate a negative relationship between attachment avoidance and self-compassion. 

Interestingly, when considered individually, self-coldness seems to link to avoidance in the same way it does to anxiety [4]. This shows that despite their positive self-image, individuals high on attachment avoidance might still be cold, judgemental, and harsh on themselves. 

Discover your attachment style in just five minutes and for free! Take our Attachment Style Quiz now and receive your report right away!

Self-Compassion and Attachment in the Workplace

Attachment is related to work performance in a variety of ways [9] – you can check out our previous article about it here.

The ability to use self-compassion to soothe stress and negative emotions can have a positive impact in today’s stressful workplaces. This, in turn, can facilitate resilience and healthy coping with everyday difficulties.

When faced with a challenge at work, people with higher self-compassion can typically problem-solve without feeling overwhelmed. They are also more resilient in the face of criticism and disagreements. Thus, such people tend to have positive connections at work. 

benefits of having the capacity to be kind to yourself at work

This capacity also reflects on the different job outcomes among people with different attachment styles. Secure attachment links to stronger self-compassion skills and better achievement. Attachment security and self-compassion work together to decrease work-related negative experiences and increase job performance [9].

The good news is that interventions that aim to improve secure attachment in the workplace can have lasting effects on employees’ wellbeing. Ideally, various initiatives dedicated to this goal should be put in place to improve people’s ability to handle challenges and be more effective at work [9].

Take-Home Message: Why Be Kind to Yourself?

An inability to be kind to yourself can lead to a number of challenges: it can create emotional distress, make it more difficult to maintain relationships with loved ones and acquaintances, and affect personal and professional lives.

The lack of self-compassion can lead to self-criticism, which is associated with mental health problems like anxiety and depression [2].
Self-kindness, on the contrary, is immensely beneficial for our mental health and quality of life, as it increases optimism and happiness [1].
benefits of being kind to yourself

When we experience something negative in our lives, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, self-compassion leads us to generate positive feelings that make us feel better about our circumstances [9]. 

New lines of research are exploring ways of providing effective therapy with the aim to increase self-compassion, and a focus on improving relationships and dealing with negative emotions. By facilitating secure attachment, therapy can focus on aspects such as increasing self-esteem, developing virtues and character strengths, and learning how to forgive yourself for past mistakes.

If you tend to lack confidence, experience self-doubt, and find it hard to be kind to yourself or to provide support to your loved ones, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health practitioner and seek personalized guidance – which suits your specific situation and needs.

What we’d like to leave you with here, however, is that “be kind to yourself” is more than just a cliche. On the contrary, self-compassion is a skill (or character strength) that can have major positive effects on your well-being. Lacking that skill, on the other hand, can cause personal and social issues and impede your happiness. 

For these reasons, we believe that self-compassion is worth prioritizing and putting effort and dedication into.


[1] Pepping, C. A., Davis, P. J., O’Donovan, A., & Pal, J. (2015). Individual Differences in Self-Compassion: The Role of Attachment and Experiences of Parenting in Childhood. Self and Identity, 14(1), 104–117.

[2] Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, C., & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(3), 545–565.

[3] Neff, K. D. (2003). Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250.

[4] Brophy, K., Brähler, E., Hinz, A., Schmidt, S., & Körner, A. (2020). The role of self-compassion in the relationship between attachment, depression, and quality of life. Journal of Affective Disorders, 260, 45–52. 

[5] Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: volume I: attachment. In Attachment and Loss: Volume I: Attachment (pp. 1-401). London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

[6] Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Volume II: Separation, anxiety and anger. In Attachment and loss: Volume II: Separation, anxiety and anger (pp. 1-429). London: The Hogarth press and the institute of psycho-analysis.

[7] Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of Compassion Focused Therapy. Br. J. Clin. Psychol. 53 (1), 6–41.

[8] Gilbert, P., Catarino, F., Duarte, C., Matos, M., Kolts, R., Stubbs, J., … & Basran, J. (2017). The development of compassionate engagement and action scales for self and others. Journal of Compassionate Health Care, 4(1), 1-24.

[9] Reizer, A. (2019). Bringing self-kindness into the workplace: Exploring the mediating role of self-compassion in the associations between attachment and organizational outcomes. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1–13.

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