Therapeutic Writing Prompt for Boosting Self-Compassion

In my workshops, I use therapeutic writing prompts to spark personal growth. Here is one that should help you develop a sense of what you deserve.

Lacking Self-Compassion? Try This Writing Exercise

Is there anything that you have been meaning to do in your life, or hoping to do, or even pining to do – but you just can’t seem to make it happen? Something that you have always known you wanted? Something that would provide great meaning?

If so, I invite you to speak that thing right now. You can say it inside your head if you want. (When you aren't used to having self-compassion, it can be difficult to say what you want out loud.)

Here’s mine: I desperately want to publish a book.

I have been planning dreaming yammering scheming about publishing a book since I was a pre-teen. And I’ve been toiling at it! I’ve written whole manuscripts, hundreds of thousands of words. Often my paid work has taken a back seat as I press toward this goal, always imagining what it will be like when I get there.

Yet here I am at age 47, with no book credit. (At least not yet.)

Why is this? Other people publish books. People like my father, my brother, my ex-husband, and many friends. I know it’s possible to do. But is it possible for me?

As I work on my current book project, I have been pondering that question. Because what if, yet again, I can’t quite finish this one. Or I can’t get to the publishing phase? What if those self-sabotaging parts of me kick in, like The Procrastinator, The Fuzzy Thinker, The Bored-With-my-Topic One, or The Sleepy One?

I have been wondering – when those parts of me get activated and keep me from the finish line, what are they up to?

Eastman Johnson, 1862

Eastman Johnson, 1862

We hear people explain this phenomenon by using such phrases as “I’m afraid of success,” or, “I’m afraid of failure,” or, “I’m not cut out for it,” or even, “I must not be smart enough.” I have said all of these things to myself, many times. I have felt that dark void, where no self-compassion can live.

And today I am considering this one: “I don’t deserve to publish a book.”

Wow, that feels bad. But it also feels true. I have struggled to love myself enough to believe that I deserve to reach this goal. If that idea rings any bells for you, please stay with me.

The following two-part prompt is aimed at this self-limiting belief.


The Prompt

Part One

• At the top of a piece of paper or page of your journal, write down the thing that you have been longing to do.

• Spend a minute or so imagining what it would feel like if you actually accomplished this goal. Let all your fantasies play out.

For me, it might sound like this:

If I published a book, I’d finally see that I am capable. I’d feel like an authority. It would help my career and I’d have more ways to earn money. I’d definitely feel fulfilled. And so on.

• Set a timer for three minutes. In order to access your deepest beliefs about what achieving your goal would mean for you, I’m going to advise that you use the process that Natalie Goldberg outlines in Writing Down the Bones.

  • Keep your hand moving
  • Don’t cross out
  • Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar
  • Don’t get logical

Write for three minutes about what it would feel like if you finally succeeded in doing that thing.

• When the timer goes off, put down your pen. Read over what you’ve written. Isolate all the separate elements in your passage – the specific feelings, outcomes and experiences that you imagine. You can mark them with numbers if you want.

Part Two

Now we’re going to return to the notion of “deserving.” This might feel kind of unpleasant at first, but bear with me.

• Write down sentences that begin with “I don’t deserve,” and are followed by each element in your passage, until you have a list.

For me it would look like this:

I don’t deserve to see that I am capable.
I don’t deserve to feel like an authority.


Okay, let’s switch gears. Envision a person in your life whom you love dearly. Maybe it’s your child, a sibling, a close friend – someone that you want the very best for.

And now, imagine that person saying these things – “I don’t deserve…” – about him or herself. Not only saying them, but believing them and basing all of his or her life decisions on these beliefs.

You know what I’m getting at, right?

Kind of heartbreaking.


Two Things To Do With This List

1. Read the list aloud, and listen to yourself saying these things. Try sending yourself some of the love that you have for that person you named above.

2. Just sit with the statements for a while, even a few days or weeks. See if they start to sound ridiculous, or funny, or if they make you mad. They might activate other (inaccurate) messages that keep you from achievement. But my hope is that they will inspire you to consider their opposites.

In other words: of COURSE you deserve it! And you can offer yourself the love and compassion that would help you believe this.

This exercise was designed to help you bring implicit beliefs – ones that were deep inside and maybe unclear to you – into explicit awareness. You are now “awake” to some of the messages that may have been underlying your stuckness. A wide variety of research shows that doing this can lead to change.

With luck, you can see that the list of things you don’t deserve represents a bunch of hogwash (a technical term). We didn’t get at why you and I might be low on self-compassion, or carrying around such self-limiting beliefs, however. Perhaps we’ll do that in another post.