Let go of self-criticism and discover self-compassion (It’s easier than you think!) by Guest Blogger Kristin Neff, PhD
“You’re so stupid! What a loser! You look like a total cow in those jeans!”
Would you talk this way to a friend – or even to a stranger for that matter? Of course not. (Or at least I hope not! If you do please don’t invite me to your next dinner party!) Its natural for us to try to be kind to the people we care about in our lives. We let them know it’s okay to be human when they fail. We reassure them of our respect and support when they’re feeling bad about themselves. We comfort them when they’re going through hard times. In other words, most of us are very good at being understanding, kind, and compassionate towards others.
But how many of us offer that kind of compassion to ourselves?
For the past decade or so I’ve been conducting research on self-compassion, and have found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.
It makes sense. When our inner voice continually criticizes and berates us we end up feeling worthless, incompetent and insecure, and we often end up in negative cycles of self sabotage and self harm. However, when our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend we can – when we notice some personal failing – feel safe and accepted enough to both see ourselves clearly and make the changes needed for us to be healthier and happier.
But what is self-compassion exactly? Drawing on the writings of various Buddhist scholars, I have defined self-compassion as having 3 main components:
(b) a sense of common humanity
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a cold ‘stiff-upper-lip’ approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects one’s own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that one can take greater perspective towards one’s personal shortcomings and difficulties. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind: a compassion that can be extended toward the self when suffering occurs through no fault of one’s own – when the external circumstances of life are simply too painful or difficult to bear – or else when our suffering stems from one’s own mistakes, failures or personal inadequacies.
Much of the research conducted on self-compassion has used the Self-Compassion Scale I created. If you want to test your own self-compassion level and find out if you need to start being kinder to yourself, go to: http://www.self-compassion.org/test_your_self-compassion_level.html
Once you’ve figured out how much or little self-compassion you have, you can start working on how to apply it, increase it, or get it in the first place. If you’re interested in doing so, you may also want to order my new book “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” which has dozens of exercise to increase self-compassion.ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER KRISTIN NEFF: Kristin Neff got her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1997 in the field of moral development. She then spent two years of post-doctoral study in the field of self-concept development at Denver University. Her current position is in the Human Development and Culture Program, Dept. of Educational Psychology, at the University of Texas at Austin. She started at UT in 1999 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006. During Kristin’s last year of graduate school in 1997 she became interested in Buddhism, and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically. The scale she created to measure self-compassion was published in 2003 and is now being used by hundreds of researchers worldwide. In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer at Harvard University, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. She has a new book titled “Self-Compassion” that was published by William Morrow in April, 2011. Kristin lives in the countryside in Elgin, Texas with her husband Rupert Isaacson – an author and human rights activist – and with her young son Rowan. She and her family were recently featured in the documentary and book called The Horse Boy. [THANK YOU SO MUCH TO KRISTIN NEFF FOR THIS GREAT CONTRIBUTION TO THE TURNING POINT LIFE COACHING BLOG!]
This article was originally published on March 18, 2011 on the Psychology Today website.