Note to Self: Be Kind (to Yourself) — The Importance of Self-Compassion

rummi and self compassion

The Importance of Self-Compassion

likeSomeone every close to me told me some years ago: “you need to be kinder to yourself.” I thought, “What does that mean? I buy good wine (because life’s too short to do otherwise), I exercise regularly, I enjoy the fruits of my labor. What else is there?” I didn’t understand then that her suggestion had nothing to do with those “earthly” pursuits, and that, in fact, she was referring to the way I treated myself–often on a spectrum ranging from self-doubt and consistent self-recrimination to the extremes of self-loathing (and the associated various and well known ways that we modernites try to escape these uncomfortable feelings). Self-compassion was an alien idea for me then, but I know realize that it’s critical not only for my well being, but for the well-being of those I love. Who amongst us hasn’t felt one or more of the following: Not being good enough, smart enough, tall enough, thin enough, financially sound, attractive enough, etc.–these are all components of the same thing: lack of self-appreciation and self-compassion. We often treat ourselves as if everyone else has “figured it out” but we, as individuals, have not. That we’re somehow not worthy of love or kindness or caring; that we deserve to suffer, somehow. These traits are all too (increasingly) common in our modern society, and they can, when taken to the extreme, lead to some pretty negative outcomes (self-medicating, lashing out at others, depression, among just a few maladies). But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Recognizing and accepting that you are not “abnormal”

But What exactly is Self-Compassion?

According to Dr. Kristen Neff of the University of Texas, Austin, author and expert on self-compassion, there are three main components to self-compassion:

Dr. Kristen Neff

Self-kindness. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.

Common humanity. Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.  Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

Mindfulness. Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.  This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity…

Research Findings on Self-Compassion

The latest research concludes that self-compassion is key to a healthier existence–not just for ourselves, but for those around us. According to Dr. Neff, there have been over 200 journal articles and dissertations examining the topic since 2003. And it seems, more attention is being paid in journals, magazines, and blogs every day. Here are some of the research-backed conclusions about the benefits of self-compassion:
  • Self-compassion appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events.
  • One of the most consistent findings in the research literature is that greater self-compassion is linked to less psychopathology; there appears to be a found a large effect size when examining the link between self-compassion and depression, anxiety, and stress across 20 studies.
  • Research suggests that self-compassion actually enhances motivation.
  • Self-compassion not only helps oneself but also improves interpersonal functioning, including improved romantic relationships, and decreased controlling and aggressiveness (relative to those who lack self-compassion).

         

 If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~ Dalai Lama

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Tools You can Use Right Now: Dr. Kristin Neff

MP3 for Immediate Listening: The following links are free guided meditations for self-compassion courtesy of Dr. Neff:
Affectionate Breathing

Body Scan

Loving Kindness Meditation

Noting your Emotions

Soften, soothe, allow:  Working with emotions in the body

Audiobook: Dr. Neff also offers a step by step audio program for self-kindness.

Research: Research paper for clinicians, Self-Compassion in Clinical Practice.

Video: Self-Compassion – Part 1: Dr. Kristin Neff

Tools You can Use Right Now: Dr. Rick Hanson Interviews with Experts on the Compassionate Brain

As those who are regular visitors to this site know, Rick Hanson is one of my favorite experts and advocates for taming the ancient brain with modern mindfulness. He has developed and offers (for free!) his series called The Compassionate Brain: Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and Love: Practical Neuroscience for Transformation. According to host site Sounds True,

Dr. Rick Hanson presents a FREE eight-part video series—The Compassionate Brain—that explores effective ways to change your brain and heart and life.

In each interview, Dr. Hanson is joined by a world-class scholar/teacher, including Richie Davidson, Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Dacher Keltner, Kelly McGonigal, Kristin Neff, and Jean Houston. They discuss different ways to use the power of neuroplasticity—how the mind can change the brain to transform the mind—to open the heart, build courage, find compassion, forgive oneself and others, and heal the world.

“Perhaps the most valuable result of our new discoveries about neuroplasticity,” says Dr. Rick Hanson, “is that it helps us bring our brain into harmony with the greatest virtues of our heart.” With The Compassionate Brain FREE video event series, Dr. Rick Hanson invites you to join him and his seven guests to explore the profound implications of this cutting-edge science—and how you can use it to guide your own transformation.

Watch the introduction to the video series. More videos from Dr. Hanson’s site here.

Yours in Mental Hygiene,
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The Ancient Brain and Modern Mindfulness

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