Serendipity led me this week to an interesting and beautiful YouTube video by Dr. Kirstin Neff on “Resilience and Self-Compassion.” Neff’s done a heap of research on the topic of self-compassion and her way of sharing it inspires you to get a whole lot better at practicing it.
Essentially, self-compassion is being kind, supportive and caring toward yourself—learning to be your own Best Friend Forever. It’s learning to treat yourself the way you would treat people you care about, especially when they are in pain. And it’s adopting a kind of reverse golden rule: Don’t do or say to yourself what you wouldn’t do or say to others.
We tend to be awfully self-critical, to beat ourselves up with our self-talk and self-destructive behaviors, when we feel we’ve failed at something, or acted badly in some way. It’s almost as if we somehow believe that if we tell ourselves what louses we are, we’ll do better next time. But in reality all we succeed in doing is making ourselves feel worse.
You know how we have this built-in self-defense system to protect us from threats? Way back in time, it was meant to keep us from getting eaten by tigers or bears. But in today’s world, the most prevalent threats aren’t to our physical selves, but to our self-concepts. What happens when we beat ourselves up is that we become both the attacker and the attacked—a truly excruciating situation! We generate floods of anxiety-producing cortisol into our systems when we do that.
So step one in learning to be your own BFF is to notice when you’re attacking yourself. When you feel upset, pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself. And if it’s words of anger or condemnation, stop it! Instead, give yourself some caring understanding.
Use the phrase “Stop/Look/Do.” Stop what you’re doing. Look at what you’re doing. Do something kinder.
Self-compassion, like compassion for others, is a response of the heart. It’s treating yourself with kindness, with soothing and comfort. It’s like giving yourself an internal hug.
Another clue that you’re indulging in self-disrespect is to notice when you’re wallowing in your suffering, saying things like “This shouldn’t be happening to me,” instead of acknowledging that life isn’t perfect, that none of us are, and that bad things happen. Recognize that suffering happens to everybody, even the kind of pain you’re feeling right now. You’re not alone in experiencing it. It’s part of the universal human experience. Psychologist Tara Brach recommends saying to yourself, “This is suffering. Everybody suffers. May I be kind.” It will save you from feeling isolated and singled out when life deals its inevitable blows.
Instead of running away from your pain or disappointment or trying to fight it, let yourself “be” with it, feeling it without judging it, allowing it, accepting it as pain. “This is suffering. Everybody suffers. May I be kind.” Then be kind. Open your heart to yourself and feel compassion flowing toward you, from you.
A lot of dividends come from practicing self-compassion. It creates more resilience in us. One study found it was the single most important factor in how well people recovered from divorce, for example. Another study found that those who practiced it were far less likely to suffer from PTSD even when they had experienced more warfare than those who didn’t. It helps build better romantic relationships, too, and enables us to be more forgiving and to maintain a broader perspective on trying situations.
You can learn more about it at Neff’s excellent website and can even take a quiz to determine how self-compassionate you are. For now, a simple way to begin being kinder to yourself is to practice Tara Brach’s simple formula: Attend and befriend.
Wishing you a week of deeper kindness and friendship with YOU, because you deserve it.