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Self-Compassion, the Space Between Grace & Grit

Updated: Feb 1

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

August 16, 2022

Have you pushed yourself to perfection, but fall short of your expectations? Would you like to give yourself some grace, but find it difficult to not feel self-indulgent?

It turns out there is a sweet spot just right between grace and grit that allows us to overcome obstacles while maintaining resiliency.

You are deserving.

Let's first explore the concept of grace in this space as the art of self-compassion. "Self-compassion is defined for persons which are open, sensitive, courteous and compassionate towards their sufferings and pains and do not criticize the failures of other individuals" (Neff, 2003).

Self-compassion involves three elements: kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, and is "relevant when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, and failures, as well as when struggling with more general life situations that cause us mental, emotional, or physical pain" (Neff). Self compassion allows one to feel safe and to see oneself clearly without condemnation.

Self-compassion is considered helpful by allowing individuals to cope with problems encountered in a more stress-free way, by defining experiences as supportive, helpful and guiding, rather than all-defining criticism. Self-compassion is a skill we can learn to allow ourselves to be "kind and self-respecting rather than angry and critical" (Bulbul & Arslan, 2017).

Self-compassion isn't self-indulgence.

Self-compassion is a frame of mind that provides self-understanding and reflection while encouraging each individual to thrive. The opposite way of being, self-critical, contributes to depression and anxiety; whereas "self-compassion entails seeing one’s own experience in light of the common human experience" (Neff, 2003). It is important to acknowledge "suffering, failure, and inadequacies are part of the human condition, and that all people—oneself included—are worthy of compassion."

It may not come as a surprise to understand research has found physiological changes to the fight or flight response to be noticeable when utilizing self-compassion. Neff and Dahm (2015) describe research that shows self-compassion "deactivates the threat system (associated with feelings of insecure attachment, defensiveness and autonomic arousal) and activates the self-soothing system (associated with feelings of secure attachment, safety, and the oxytocin-opiate system)". Research shows self-compassion can calm the stress response, therefore providing relief through an understanding lens.

"Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?" (Neff, 2022).

Self-compassion offers the opportunity to be aware and experience life and difficulties without judgement or criticalness. When we add a splash of grit to the mix, the combination provides a compass to the road ahead.

Capacity and tenacity join to make grit.

Grit is defined as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals" (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly, 2007). "Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."

Similarly, self-discipline is simply defined as the "capacity to do what you want to do" (Bashant, 2014). "It's knowing how to manage your emotions and thoughts and knowing how to plan your behavior in order to reach your goals." Grit and self discipline do not involve harboring insults at oneself for not reaching goals; it is not being highly self-critical which often leads to anxiety and depression.

The space between grit and grace enables us to have a healthy jolt of self-discipline and motivation guided by self-compassion. This provides a map to continue to steer us towards a healthy direction as imperfect, useful, intentional, compassionate, and resilient, human beings.

Grit and grace guide us to not give up, even in the face of adversity, or the absence of positive feedback.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting


Bashant, J. (2014). Developing grit in our students: Why grit is such a desirable trait, and practical

strategies for teachers and schools. Retrieved from

Bulbul, A.E., and Arslan, C. (2017). Investigation of patience tendency levels in terms of self-

determination, self-compassion and personality features. Universal Journal of Educational

Research 5(9): 1632-1645. DOI: 10.13189/ujer.2017.050921 Retrieved from

Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., and Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for

long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92,(6), 1087–1101.


Neff, K.D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward

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Neff, K.D., Dahm, K.A. (2015). Self-Compassion: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Relates to

Mindfulness. In: Ostafin, B., Robinson, M., Meier, B. (eds) Handbook of Mindfulness and Self-

Regulation. Springer, New York, NY.

Neff, K.D. (2022). Definition of self-compassion.


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