Can Being Kind to Yourself Help Your Skin Picking?

Dr. Dawn Ferrara
Aug 25th, 2022

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Nobody’s perfect. No matter how hard we might try, we mess up. We make mistakes. It doesn’t make us somehow broken or “less than”. It simply makes us human. Still, we tend to judge ourselves pretty harshly and pick ourselves apart when we don’t live up to the standards we set for ourselves. Ironically, we are often able to extend compassion and grace to others with ease.

Skin picking is a body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRB) characterized by compulsive picking of the skin in ways that result in tissue damage and scarring. While the reasons behind why people pick vary, research suggests that picking occurs in response to negative emotions and a maladaptive perfectionism that strives to eliminate the stressor. The picking temporarily alleviates the distress but negative emotions such as shame and guilt emerge following the episode leading to a cycle of picking. Frustration, impatience, and even boredom can lead to continued picking.

In fact, perfectionism is a challenge that is frequently described by people living with skin picking. Perfectionists find it hard to accept anything but absolute success. Their response can be harsh and highly critical. One of the themes commonly expressed by people living with BFRBs like skin picking is the struggle to be kind to themselves. How can you be kind to yourself when you see yourself falling short?

Surveys of people living with skin picking have found a growing trend of people turning to the practice of self-compassion and acceptance as a way to relieve the emotional distress associated with their picking and difficulty stopping. They report finding that when they treat themselves more compassionately, they feel more empowered and motivated to continue trying. They feel less like a failure and more like they can accomplish their goal. Research seems to agree. Self-compassion and forgiveness for slipping up can help to reduce the behavior in the future.

What is self-compassion and how do you practice it? Here’s what you need to know.

More Than Just Being Nice

You might think you already know what self-compassion is – just being nice to yourself. You wouldn’t be wrong but it’s more complex than that.

According to self-compassion expert Kristin Neff, self-compassion means being kind and understanding towards yourself when you fall short. Instead of harshly judging yourself for real or imagined shortcomings, you recognize that you are human with a human’s inadequacies and shortcomings, and you treat yourself with respect, kindness, and grace. imperfection. It entails being mindfully aware of your personal struggle and ruminating less about the negative aspects of your experience.

Self-compassion is comprised of three core components:

1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment- This means that you are kind and non-judgmental with yourself when you falter or fail. You are able to recognize that sometimes you’re imperfect and will sometimes miss the mark or experience difficulties in life. You recognize that you won’t always get everything you want. When you’re able to accept this reality, you open the door to emotional growth.

2. Common humanity vs. Isolation – part of self-compassion is recognizing that suffering and inadequacy are part of being human. We all experience adversity and sometimes we fall short. You’re not alone.  It’s this recognition of the human experience that also allows you to show compassion towards others.

3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification - Self-compassion entails being able to acknowledge both positive and painful emotions and be able to be mindful of them. Mindfulness allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings as they are without trying to suppress them, deny them, or get caught up in them.

Aside from just making us feel bad, what does being unkind or not showing compassion to ourselves do to us psychologically? Research has found that a lack of self-compassion is more strongly associated with negative feelings and emotions including depression, self-esteem, body shame, fear of failure, and distress. Positive self-evaluations, on the other hand, were shown to be strongly associated with emotional awareness, goal re-engagement, and compassion for others.

The idea of being gentle with yourself might be uncomfortable at first. After all, being kind to yourself and extending grace can feel like self-pity or self-indulgence or even not taking responsibility. In reality, self-compassion is none of those things. Self-compassion is a healthy way of recognizing that we have growing edges and that the pursuit of perfection is an impossible task.

Practicing Self-Compassion

You might be wondering just how to be compassionate towards yourself, especially if you tend to be critical of yourself. Can you learn a new way of caring for yourself? You can!

There are a number of exercises you can use to begin relearning how to speak to yourself with compassion and kindness. Here are a few examples:

  • Be Your Own Friend – Would you speak to a friend who was struggling in the same way you speak to yourself? Of course not. While you can’t take away their pain, you’d validate their struggle and support them through it. The next time you’re faced with a difficult situation, speak to yourself as if you were speaking to your best friend – because you are.
  • Improve Your Self Awareness – Do you even know when you are being hypercritical of yourself? Sometimes we do something for so long, we don’t even realize it anymore. Try using “releasing statements”. When you find yourself being critical, turn it around into something more affirming.

For example, “I’m a terrible friend for not calling back when I said I would.” Reframe it: “It’s ok that I’m forgetful sometimes.” See? You’re acknowledging the misstep but also giving yourself grace.

  • Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness is something that can benefit you in ways well beyond self-compassion. Mindfulness helps to center you in the moment and can help you avoid the rumination that can create distress. It’s also a core component of self-compassion. There are lots of ways to learn mindfulness including yoga, meditations, and even what self-compassion expert Kristin Neff calls “self-compassion breaks”.

Want more ways to build self-compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff offers a number of resources including tips, exercises, and guided practices for building self-compassion on her website. Her site is chock full of useful information and tools to help you learn how to be more accepting and kinder to yourself.

Putting It All Together

Adopting a more self-compassionate approach to your skin picking can help you to become kinder and more compassionate towards yourself. Self-compassion lets you see yourself as more than just your picking. Acceptance allows you to acknowledge that your picking is there, and that it is a mechanism for coping with something distressing. The picking can be viewed in a less adversarial way. People living with skin picking who practice self-compassion and acceptance describe feeling less distress over their picking and more willing to keep trying to heal.

Self-compassion can help you to develop a more positive, healthy relationship with yourself and empower you to continue healing. It is one more tool that you can include in your coping toolbox. It can be an important part of your overall treatment process and help you to maintain hope and motivation.


1. Noble, Christina & Gnilka, Philip & Ashby, Jeffrey & McLaulin, Sarah. (2017). Perfectionism, Shame, and Trichotillomania Symptoms in Clinical and Nonclinical Samples. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 39. 335-350.

2. Pasternak, A. (2019, September 27). Self-Compassion for Skin Picking + More (Forgiveness for Dermatillomania) [Video]. Retrieved from

3. Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133-1143.

4. Neff, K. D., Long, P., Knox, M. C., Davidson, O., Kuchar, A., Costigan, A., … Breines, J. G. (2018). The forest and the trees: Examining the association of self-compassion and its positive and negative components with psychological functioning. Self and Identity, 17(6), 627-645.

5. Neff, K. (2020, July 9). Definition and three elements of self-compassion. Retrieved from

6. Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-compassion exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff. Retrieved from

Dr. Dawn Ferrara


With over 25 years of clinical practice, Dawn brings experience, education and a passion for educating others about mental health issues to her writing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, a Doctorate in Psychology and is a Board-Certified Telemental Health Provider. Practicing as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dawn worked with teens and adults, specializing in anxiety disorders, work-life issues, and family therapy. Living in Hurricane Alley, she also has a special interest and training in disaster and critical incident response. She now writes full-time, exclusively in the mental health area, and provides consulting services for other mental health professionals. When she’s not working, you’ll find her in the gym or walking her Black Lab, Riley.

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