Discussions of compassion in my college courses have been-thought provoking. No topic, however, has generated more soul-searching than self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., University of Texas, is a (if not the) leading scholar in this area. Her website, self-compassion.org, provides information, resources, and exercises. She suggests self-compassion involves:
- Not being so critical in evaluating ourselves and our achievements or lack thereof. Being kind to ourselves, lightening up on judging ourselves harshly, lighten up on criticizing ourselves harshly.
- Let ourselves become more aware of our extended humanity, that we are not the only ones on this planet, that whatever we are experiencing, others are experiencing or have experienced or will experience. We all suffer. We are all part of this family of humanity. The key is feeling this reality. Not just knowing it intellectually.
- Be mindful. Understand all things in balance, even pain. Don’t ignore pain or exaggerate pain. Accept.
Why are these holidays such a time of anxiety? Why do we try so hard to please, to seek approval. And when we look back at the year past and forward to the new year, we may do so critically, regardless of our successes and small moments of joy. We all know people who are far too hard on themselves. Perhaps we may be too hard on yourselves.
There is a place in this “always striving” culture for realistic evaluation and goal-setting – but it is easy to become too negative in our self-evaluations. As the social psychologist Leon Festinger pointed out many decades ago, we are social animals. We are always comparing ourselves with others. Sometimes a friend. Sometimes a sibling. Sometimes a parent. We have referents. I think sometimes we could be much gentler with ourselves if we just shift our referent. Adjust the bar. Adjust our goals.
Earlier this year I found the mediation exercise at the Center for Investigation of Healthy Minds to be helpful and I recommend. And as one who had known some physical pain this year, I know how hard it can be to be in touch with your pain, live with your pain. I did find Neff’s perspective on self-compassion and pain beneficial.
Self-compassion needs to be a larger part of our vocabulary for living. Perhaps it is as easy as loving yourself. How can we truly love others unless we can embrace our own being?
Image of Dr. Neff obtained from her and used with her permission.