Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself – Kristin Neff, Ph. D.

Here are 5 other points from the book:

How do you calm your inner voice of severe criticism and that feeling of worthlessness? To Kristin Neff, Ph. D., it’s all about having more self-compassion. Self-compassion means exactly what it says; to be kind and caring towards yourself. Through her research, Kristin Neff has discovered that those who have more self-compassion generally do better in life, which makes sense. The more positive you are or the more you take care of your emotion health the better you’re able to perform or produce in your life. There are plenty of other books written by other Ph. Ds. that all discuss the importance of positivity, good emotional intelligence, and a strong mindset. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. It’s human nature to criticize ourselves but don’t feel like you’re not worthy of being compassionate to yourself. Everyone is worthy of self-compassion. Everyone can become more compassionate to themselves, it just takes some practice through exercises. Don’t think that things are fixed to the way they are because of your circumstances as it’s most likely not fixed. For the most part, you have the ability to change your situation and, most importantly, your perception on your actions. One of the downsides of living in a culture that stresses the ethic of independence and individual achievement is that if we don’t continually reach our ideal goals, we feel that we only have ourselves to blame. And if we’re at fault, that means we don’t deserve compassion, right? The truth is, everyone is worthy of compassion. The very fact that we are conscious human beings experiencing life on the planet means that we are intrinsically valuable and deserving of care. According to the Dalai Lama, ‘Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this…. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same.’ This is the same sentiment, of course, that inspired the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ We don’t have to earn the right to compassion; it is our birthright. We are human, and our ability to think and feel, combined with our desire to be happy sake. Many people are resistant to the idea of self-compassion, however. Isn’t it really just a form of self-pity? Or a dressed-up word for self-indulgence?” She later states, Our brains and bodies have the innate capacity to both give and receive care. It’s part of our genetic inheritance. Not only does survival depend on the fight-or-flight instinct, it also depends on the ‘tend and befriend’ instinct. In times of threat or stress, animals that are protective of their offspring are more likely to pass their genes successfully on to and their young. Unlike reptiles, who could care less about their offspring once they’ve slithered out of their eggs—often eating them, in fact—mammals spend considerable time and energy nurturing their young, making sure they are adequately fed, warm, and safe. Mammals are born in an immature state. They can’t take care of themselves as newborns, and they rely on parents to be their lifeline until they are ready to leave home. Evolution ensured that mammals could both give and receive nurturance, so that parents wouldn’t abandon their children after birth and children wouldn’t wander off alone into the dangerous wild. The emotion of care comes naturally to us, because without it our species would not be able to survive. This means that the capacity to feel affection and interconnection is part of our biological nature. Our brains are actually designed to care.”


2. Self-criticism is all a part of evolutionary psychology. We’ve been engrained to be harsh and negative towards ourselves as a defense mechanism. By saying self-deprecating things, we feel that we can beat the other person to the punch and therefore we won’t be scolded by the other person. Perhaps our behavior becomes more understandable, however, when we remember that just like self-aggrandizement, self-criticism is a type of safety behavior designed to ensure acceptance within the larger social group. Even though the alpha dog gets to eat first, the dog that shows his belly when snarled at still gets his share. He’s given a safe place in the pack even if it’s at the bottom of the pecking order. Self-criticism serves as a submissive behavior because it allows us to abase ourselves before imaginary others who pronounce judgment over us—then reward our submission with a few crumbs from the table. When we are forced to admit our failings, we can appease our mental judges by acquiescing to their negative opinions of us. Consider, for example, how people often criticize themselves in front of others: ‘I look like a cow in this dress,’ ‘I’m hopelessly inept with computers,’ ‘I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know!’ (I’m prone to spouting this last line, especially when I’m driving friends somewhere and have gotten lost for the umpteenth time.) It’s as if we’re saying, ‘I’m going to beat you to the punch and criticize myself before you can. I recognize how flawed and imperfect I am so you don’t have to cut me down and tell me what I already know. Hopefully you will then have sympathy for me instead of judging me and assure me that I’m not as bad as I think I am.’ This defensive posture stems from the natural desire not to be rejected and abandoned and makes sense in terms of our most basic survival instincts.


3. Culture plays a significant role in how much you criticize yourself. People of certain cultures tend to criticize themselves more than others. The tendency to criticize ourselves and feel worthless as a result can be traced in part to larger cultural messages. In fact, there is a well-known story about a group of Western scholars who were meeting with the Dalai Lama, who asked him how to help people suffering from low self-esteem. His Holiness was confused, and the concept of self-esteem had to be explained to him. He looked around this room of educated, successful people and asked, ‘Who here feels low self-esteem?’ Everyone looked at one another and replied, ‘We all do.’ One of the downsides of living in a culture that stresses the ethic of independence and individual achievement is that if we don’t reach our ideal goals, we feel that we only have ourselves to blame. It is not only Westerners who are harshly judgmental toward themselves, of course. In Taiwan—where there is a strong Confucian ethic—there is also strong belief in self-criticism as a motivating force. The Confucian ideal is that you should criticize yourself in order to keep yourself in line—focusing on meeting the needs of others instead of yourself. In countries where Buddhism plays a stronger role in daily life, such as Thailand, people are much more self-compassionate. In fact, in our cross-cultural study we found that people had the highest levels of self-compassion in Thailand and the lowest in Taiwan, with the United States falling in between. In all three countries, however, we found that self-criticism was strongly related to depression and dissatisfaction with life. It appears that the negative impact of self-criticism may be universal, even though different cultures encourage it to a greater or lesser degree.


4. Feeling a bit blue and need to be a bit more self-compassionate? Give yourself a hug. You’re probably thinking that it’s silly but just as there’s a brain-body connection, there’s a body-brain connection as Amy Cuddy talks about in her book Presence. One easy way to soothe and comfort yourself when you’re feeling badly is to give yourself a gentle hug. It seems a bit silly at first, but your body doesn’t know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being held in its mother’s arms. Our skin is an incredibly sensitive organ. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. So why not try it? If you notice that you’re feeling tense, upset, sad, or self-critical, try giving yourself a warm hug, tenderly stroking your arm or face, or gently rocking your body. What’s important is that you make a clear gesture that conveys feelings of love, care, and tenderness. If other people are around, you can often fold your arms in a nonobvious way, gently squeezing yourself in a comforting manner. You can also biochemical experience. Try giving yourself a hug in times of suffering several times a day for a period of at least a week. Hopefully you’ll start to develop the habit of physically comforting yourself when needed, taking full advantage of this surprisingly simple and straightforward way to be kind to ourselves.


5. A common theme that I notice in books on happiness is that we derive happiness from building good, solid, and meaningful relationships whether it’s with family or friends. If you’re down, the worst thing you can do is to think that you’re all alone and that no one understands you. Rather than isolating yourself and being depressed with self-pity, go seek out your friends to talk to as you may discover that you’re not so alone in your problems after all. Abraham Maslow was a well-known American psychologist working in the mid-twentieth century who led the humanistic psychology move ment. He argued that needs for individual growth and happiness can’t be met without first satisfying the more basic need for human connection. Without bonds of love and affection with others, he argued, we cannot go on to achieve our full potential as human beings. Similarly, psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, who developed a model called ‘self psychology’ in the early 1970s, proposed that belongingness was one of the core needs of the self. He defined belongingness as the feeling of being ‘human among humans,’ a feeling that allows us to feel connected to other people. One of the major causes of mental health problems, he felt, was a lack of belongingness, the perception that we are cut off from our fellows. Loneliness stems from the feeling that we don’t belong, whether or not we’re in the presence of others. If you attend a large party where you don’t quite fit in, you’re still likely to feel alone. Loneliness comes from feeling disconnected from fear of rejection and isolation. Research indicates that social isolation increases the risk of coronary heart disease by two or three times. In contrast, involvement in a support group lessens the anxiety and depression experienced by cancer victims, while increasing their long-term chances of survival. One of the key reasons support groups are so effective is because members feel less isolated throughout their ordeal. The need to belong, therefore, is fundamental to both physical and emotional health. Feelings of connectedness, like feelings of kindness, activate the brain’s attachment system. The ‘befriend’ part of the ‘tend and be friend’ instinct has to do with the human tendency to affiliate, to come together in groups in order to feel secure. For this reason, people who feel connected to others are not as frightened by difficult life circumstances and are more readily able to roll with the punches.


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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1 Comment

  1. […] Have some self-compassion. “Self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human. […]


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