Self-compassion is how kindly you treat yourself, how gentle you are in evaluating yourself. Is your self-talk considerate? Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt? Or do you lay into yourself with harsh words and severe judgments? Turns out that many people are kinder to others than they are to themselves, berating themselves for not exercising or being overweight, shortfalls of motivation or discipline that they more easily may overlook in friends and family.

Why are we so tough on ourselves? “The biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” says Dr. Kristen Neff, associate professor of human development at University of Texas at Austin. Self-compassion should not be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.”

They may be overdoing it. Self-criticism may be like stress: a little bit is helpful, too much is counter-productive.

Dr. Neff’s book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” contains a self-compassion scale, which is 26 statements meant to determine how kind people are to themselves and how well they remember that setbacks and an occasional stumble are a normal part of life.

“A positive response to the statement ‘I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies,’ for example, suggests lack of self-compassion. ‘When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people,’ suggests the opposite.” For those low on the scale, Dr. Neff suggests a set of exercises—such as writing yourself a letter of support, just as you might to a friend you are concerned about. “Listing your best and worst traits, reminding yourself that nobody is perfect and thinking of steps you might take to help you feel better about yourself also are recommended.”

(Drawn and portions quoted from “Go Easy on Yourself a New Wave of Research Urges,” by Tara Parker-Pope; The New York Times, February 28, 2011.)