THREE COMPONENTS OF SELF COMPASSION
«Another way to feel good about yourself that doesn’t require feeling better than others»
Some highlights of the talk by Ph.D. Kristin Neff that will equip you with a quick overview of Mindful Self Compassion.
The downsides of high self esteem
Psychologists unpackaging over the last decade could demonstrate there are insidious downsides to this need to feel high self esteem, not so much about having it but about how to get it and what is done to keep it.
In order to feel high self esteem psychologists have established that we all need to feel special and above-average (known as the Lake Wobegon effect). However technically impossible it is by definition to be above average on just about every culturally valued trait!
The self-esteem movement brought along a big problem which is narcissistic people (self-centered people with fragile egos who can’t take criticism). Then, of course, to have high self esteem and feel better than others there’s this need of social comparison that is now all done on social media. So there’s a lot of meanness going on as people try to feel good about themselves by putting other people down.
One other aspect is the self righteous anger that comes from this dynamic of having to have high self esteem. If we think about the last time we had an argument with someone we will understand that a lot of arguments and relationship conflicts come from neither party wishing to admit they’re wrong, because it feels a lot better to blame the other.
Finally, self-esteem goes up and down, our self esteem is often contingent and it is actually being argued that having high or low self-esteem is psychologically destabilizing.
THREE COMPONENTS OF SELF COMPASSION
At the time Ph.D. Kristin Neff did her postdoc there hadn’t been any empirical work done, and self compassion hadn’t really been defined in the academic setting. It was an ancient idea that came from Buddhism, and
- we don’t need to feel better than others,
- we don’t need to feel special or above average,
- there’s something beautiful about saying I am human, I am average, I do have flaws like everyone else,
- there’s the sense of real connectedness.
Ph.D. Kristin Neff concluded that self compassion consists of three main components:
Being kind to yourself – Recognizing common humanity – Being aware of your suffering
Self Kindness is the most obvious aspect of self-compassion. It’s treating yourself kindly and gently in a very supportive manner. It’s treating yourself in the same way as you would treat a good friend you care for.
It is not tearing yourself to shreds with harsh criticism and judging yourself as a bad person. Asked people to write down the language they use to torture themselves if they failed or feel inadequate most people say that they are harsher with themselves and would you never say this to a friend or a total stranger.
Self compassion involves active self soothing, doing things that actually calm you down, and comfort yourself just as a mother would soothe and comfort a distressed child. Taking the time to activate our own caregiving system. The idea is to recognize the suffering caused by our own self criticism and replace it with much kinder, supportive and gentle language.
Common Humanity: A lot of people feel very isolated when they suffer, or when they make a mistake. They feel inadequate when everyone else in the world seems to be doing just fine and “it’s just me who’s messed up” or “only I am having this difficult experience”. At self compassion you frame your experience of suffering in light of the shared human experience and so you feel connected to others in your suffering as opposed to feeling isolated from them.Research suggests that self compassion is psychologically beneficial. Impertection is part of the human experience and we shouldn’t expect anything otherwise.
Mindfulness has been tested to be effective for reducing stress, for mental health, and for physical health as well. To give yourself self compassion you need to be mindful of your suffering first of all, you need to be aware if you’re suffering, notice it first to give yourself compassion at the same time.
Mindfulness sees things as they are in the present moment. No more no less.
When people are in self-criticism they’re identifying with the role of self critic and get so lost in the role of critic that they’re really not in touch with the suffering they’re causing themselves feeling that they deserve it. Somehow they have no empathy or compassion for the part of themselves that is being criticized and go straight into this problem-solving mode «I need to fix this problem» and they don’t pause to say this is really difficult and I need some some TLC right now.
Self compassion hasn’t been part of the tradition in most Western cultures. The hypothesis is that to teach self-compassion will generate soft weak people but compassion can be incredibly powerful, it’s not passive. Some of the most powerful leaders we’ve had a world history were involved in great social change. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Matin Luther King… their strength came from compassion.
Compassion towards yourself sometimes is a very powerful force for change
Further reading: What Mindful Self Compassion is Not