The idea that a practice of self compassion will offer more motivation, stronger relationships and a healthier lifestyle is in direct conflict to our strong cultural norm. Within American culture, we are taught that self criticism leads to stronger self motivation and less laziness. The research indicates that a practice of self compassion improves various aspects of lives, whereas self -criticism actually has the opposite effect. The self compassionate practice is linked to increased motivation, stronger relationships and taking greater responsibility for a healthier lifestyle.
Dr. Kristin Neff is an expert and pioneer researcher on self-compassion. She has published numerous journal articles, a book, “Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” and has presented: The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen.
Dr. Neff’s research outlines that our self-esteem driven culture in which feeling special and above average is the expected norm and feeling average or less than usually feels devastating. There are many costs to a self-esteem focused society: the highest rates of narcissism in history and a bullying epidemic to name just two. Focusing on advancing our own self esteem, feeling stronger and better than the other depends upon success. Failure is not an option, especially when the self critic is at the helm. We are often our own worst enemies. Many people rarely treat themselves as they would their closest friends or partners.
In contrast to a self critical focus, a practice of self compassion is one where we relate to our whole selves for our strengths and challenges. It is a practice of treating yourself with the kindness, understanding, gentleness, encouragement that you would extend to your closest and dearest friends. The practice of self-compassion connects us to ourselves and to others in our own humanness.
The practice of self-compassion is also at its core, a practice in mindfulness. Being with what is in the present moment is central to a self-compassionate practice. In essence, we accept that we are suffering to give ourselves compassion. If we go into self-criticizing mode, we get lost in the role of the critic, and don’t realize that we are suffering. When in self compassion, we acknowledge the moment and experience of suffering, which leads to the resolution of the suffering.
The research shows that when we self criticize, adrenaline and cortisol are released, which activates the fight flight response. The threat to self is attacked, setting up a dynamic where we are the attacker and the attacked. In this constant state of stress, we are more prone to mind and body illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, adrenal failure, fatigue, and sleeplessness.
In contrast, when we are in a self compassionate state, we feel safe and comforted. Dr. Neff’s research reveals this is an optimal state of success strongly related to having less depression, experiencing greater motivation, taking more responsibility for healthier lifestyle choices, and enjoying better interpersonal relationships.
There are so many ways to begin this practice. A yoga of teacher of mine in graduate school used to end each class with this self-compassionate filled statement. See how it resonates with you.
Walk gently and sweetly with yourself.
Take each moment to love who you are.
Let us know your thoughts about self-compassion and self-compassionate practices.