Self Compassion

For most of us, the usual voice that we hear when we have failed at a new attempt is our best critic – that Judge who has memorized all our faults and is nagging us to just do better. You know the one “Can’t you ever follow through? What were you thinking to try that? You aren’t an exerciser/dieter/confident leader/competent friend/you-fill-in-the-blank.

It’s a month into the new year – and do you know where your resolutions are?I admit – it is challenging to keep those intentions and fledgling habits going. We forget, we are distracted, and we lose our motivation.For most of us, the usual voice that we hear when we have failed at a new attempt is our best critic – that Judge who has memorized all our faults and is nagging us to just do better. You know the one “Can’t you ever follow through? What were you thinking to try that? You aren’t an exerciser/dieter/confident leader/competent friend/you-fill-in-the-blank.That voice of criticism (and sometimes contempt) is familiar – and we often consider it helpful “I wouldn’t get anything done if I didn’t have that negative push,” one client told me. “I need to be reminded that I need improvement,” said another.But that’s not what the research says.Newly emerging studies are telling us another story about the best way to motivate ourselves through old difficulties and fresh starts. The construct is “self- compassion.” Identified and defined by an associate professor at University of Austin, Texas, Kristen Neff, self compassion involves being open and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness towards oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and failures, recognizing that one’s experience is part of the human experience.( Neff, (2003). The development and validation if a scale to measure self- compassion. Self and Identity, 2, p.224.Now that’s a mouthful – not just the definition, but to take in what it would mean to treat yourself with a gentle feeling of caring an kindness.  When you aren’t able to do something – maybe because of fatigue or pain – to take a kindly approach. When you don’t follow through on a commitment – to be open to allowing nonjudgmental space for yourself.Some have worried that if they are not harsh and demanding with themselves, they will become slackers – lazy and non-productive.What the research suggests is that contrary to our fears, most people become better at achieving their goals. When they feel understood and received with kindness – especially by themselves, their resilience increases and they are more willing to try again or stay on track.I find this exciting to contemplate and in the next issue I will develop some of the ways you can use these ideas to support your goals and choices. 

Neff (2003a, 2003b) recently identified a previously unstudied

construct that may play an important role in how people deal with

life’s problems—self-compassion. According to Neff (2003a),

self-compassion involves “being open to and moved by one’s own

suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward

oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward

one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience

is part of the common human experience” (p. 224). Presumably,

a person high in self-compassion sees his or her problems,

weaknesses, and shortcomings accurately, yet reacts with

kindness and compassion rather than with self-criticism and harshness.

Thus, self-compassion may buffer people against negative

events and engender positive self-feelings when life goes badly.

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