So what is self-compassion? Self-compassion involves extending the same level of respect and kindness in our communication with ourselves as we would to a good friend. Dr Kirstin Neff is a leading researcher on self-compassion, who suggests that we should be striving to increase self-compassion rather than self-esteem if we are to lead happy healthy productive lives. Research also shows a link between self-compassion and reduced depressive symptoms.
Why aren’t people more self-compassionate? In her research Dr Neff found that the biggest barrier to self-compassion was the fear that it would lead to laziness and self-indulgence. People tend to think that self-criticism ‘keeps them in line’. However, this common belief is based on an outdated view of motivation and learning - we now know that a harsh or punitive style does not increase productivity over time, and instead decreases efficiency, increases procrastination and decreases self confidence. It also undermines curiosity interest and joy - all positive emotions that increase motivation and learning.
So how can you become more compassionate towards yourself and others? Dr Neff describes three elements of self-compassion:
1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment - this means extending kindness and encouragement to ourselves when we make mistakes or get things wrong, rather than bullying ourselves in the hope that this will ‘teach us’ to do better next time
2. Common humanity versus isolation - feeling alone in our failings can increase our suffering, however acknowledging instead that we are part of a common humanity who are all imperfect and who all make mistakes from time to time can decrease our suffering
3. Mindfulness versus over-identification - becoming aware of our negative emotions, in a balanced way, rather than ignoring them or getting overwhelmed by them, is important in remaining compassionate and decreasing suffering. Our negative emotions are important signals to ourselves that something is not ok, and validating the feeling, whilst not getting swept away by it or suppressing it, is a crucial skill for emotional health.
To find out more you can watch Dr Neff’s Ted Talk;
For more information on self-compassion watch this helpful and humorous clip from the School of Life;