“When hard times come, the greatest danger does not necessarily lie in the circumstances we face, but rather in the way we treat ourselves at the time. Nothing is more dangerous than self-hate. Nothing makes it more difficult to heal or to find the grace of peace than self-attack and the agony of self-doubt.” Stephen Schwartz
Self-compassion is going to be one of the core topics discussed on this site. I think that it is one of the most important factors affecting well-being. So with the help of one of my biggest influences, Kristin Neff, we’re going to dive right in!!
According to Neff, self-compassion is maintaining a friendly and loving attitude to yourself through thick and thin. This point is the critical difference between self-compassion and self-esteem and Neff argues that the self-esteem movement in schools that began years ago plays a big role in many systemic issues from chronic life dissatisfaction to anxiety and depression. This is because self-esteem waxes and wanes based on self-evaluation of our traits and performance at a given time while self-compassion provides unconditional worthiness and acceptance despite failure or imperfection. When we’re down and out, as Neff says, “self-esteem abandons us when we need it the most.”
The research confirming the benefits of self-compassion is consistent and constantly growing. For example, a lack of self-compassion has been significantly related with fewer avoidance symptoms among individuals with generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress and with less consumption-related guilt among restrictive eaters (Roemer et al, 2009; Thompson & Waltz, 2008; Adams & Leary, 2007). The positive impact of self-compassion is not limited to mental disorders, self-compassionate individuals demonstrate more positive behaviors in romantic relationships, life satisfaction and intrinsic motivation (Neff & Beretvas, 2013). And, yes, the studies that included a measure of self-esteem found that self-compassion produced better outcomes!
If you’re anything like me, two things may have come up for you at this point…
1) What about productivity and motivation? If I’m nice to myself, then I’ll never get anything done!
Fear not. The research says otherwise and I can personally say that I am much more productive and creative when I show myself compassion. When I am self-critical, I become blocked and can’t get any ideas out or so perfectionistic that I can’t even see that what I’ve done is good and that it’s time to let it go.
However, it is important to remember that self-compassion is not about letting ourselves off the hook all the time. It creates a safe space for us to address the areas of our lives that need changing rather than kicking ourselves when we’re down or puffing ourselves up in self-defense.
2) This self-compassion stuff sounds great but how does it work. What does it look/feel like?
Neff defines three core components of self-compassion: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity and mindful awareness. Essentially, be a friend to yourself, know that you are not alone in your imperfection and have an awareness of your emotions without exacerbating them. The point of common humanity is critical in my opinion and touches on another issue that Neff addresses in her TED talk. She explains that in our culture to be okay or worthy means to be special and/or better than others. The problem is that most, if not all, of us are average on at least a few traits/skills. This resonates with me so deeply and has led to the most powerful change in my perspective. I had always thought that being different or special would be empowering but it was the recognition of my common humanity, the suffering and resilience that we all share, that has been fulfilling and liberating for me most. This idea opens up a whole new identity and a world of opportunity because my imperfection no longer felt like a reason to feel alienated or down on myself.
Self-compassion is so important for so many aspects of our lives from mood to relationships. This blog is about all of our stories and the opportunity to support and celebrate each other as we take on the challenge of being exactly who we are. Lets get a conversation going about self-compassion!
Things to ponder and share:
How are you hard on yourself? What does that look like for you?
Think of an emotional experience that you have had. Maybe you were impatient when trying to help a friend in distress or you were coping with a break-up. How did you respond to yourself? What stopped you from taking a self-compassionate attitude? If you were able to be compassionate with yourself then what facilitated that? How did your attitude (critical or compassionate) effect your experience of the difficult situation and how events unfolded?
Resources and Works Cited (All of the articles can be found on Dr. Neff’s website. Bonus!)
Dr. Neff has an abundance of resources on her website about self-compassion including downloadable meditations, a self-assessment of your level of self-compassion, free research articles and so much more. I recommend starting with the TED talk. I’ll also be featuring some of her tools in the upcoming posts and hoping to hear your responses to them.
Neff’s TED talk –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4
Website –> http://www.self-compassion.org
Adams, C. E., & Leary, M. R. (2007). Promoting self-compassionate attitudes toward eating among restrictive and guilty eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,26, 1120-1144.
Neff, K. D., Beretvas, S. N. (2013). The role of self-compassion in romantic relationships. Self and Identity, 12(1), 78-98
Roemer, L., Lee, J. K., Salters-Pedneault, K., Erisman, S. M., Orsillo, S. M., & Mennin, D. S. (2009). Mindfulness and emotion regulation difficulties in generalized anxiety disorder: Preliminary evidence for independent and overlapping contributions. Behavior Therapy, 40, 142-154.
Thompson, B. L., Waltz, J. (2008) Self-compassion and PTSD symptom severity. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21, 556-558.