Do you consider yourself to be a compassionate person? We usually think of compassion in terms of caring for others, but having compassion for yourself may improve your health and your life. Kristin Neff, PhD, author of the book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind was interviewed for an article in the February 2013 issue of Bottom Line Health. Studies have shown that self-compassion can lower vulnerability to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and stress, improve motivation to exercise and to see a doctor regularly, and improve your ability to cope with chronic pain.
The article contrasts self-compassion with self-esteem, stating that high self-esteem can be hard to gain in our competitive, self-critical culture, and that people who do have high self esteem may feel superior or entitled, leading to prejudice and bullying. I agree with the first part of that statement, but not the second. I believe that healthy self-esteem has no need to be superior or entitled, but instead is more accepting of the faults of both the self and others.High self-esteem that contributes to prejudice and bullying is a false self-esteem, built not on positive views of the self, but the need to put others down in order to put the self higher. The article goes on to state that self-esteem can be very fragile, lasting only as long as one feels successful, smart or attractive. I agree that self-esteem can be fragile, but not necessarily. I believe that healthy self-esteem can give one resilience, the ability to laugh at ones faults and foibles, and acceptance of all aspects of the self, both 'positive' and 'negative' (in quotes, because these are very subjective). Click here to see my post on self-esteem, which, ironically, was published one year ago today.
Though I have some disagreements with how Dr. Neff views self-esteem, I like what she has to say about self-compassion. The article states "...self-compassion is stable and constructive. When you see yourself clearly- both positive and negative traits- you can more easily cope with setbacks and mistakes that are inevitable in life and make the changes needed to reach your full potential. Self compassion means treating yourself in the same way you would treat a treasured friend."
Some suggestions to improve your self compassion, paraphrased from Dr. Neff: are:
1. Say soothing words to yourself when you are upset.
2. Listen to your self-talk, and quiet your inner critic. Give yourself pep-talks and constructive feedback, rather than criticism.
3. Give yourself soothing, inconspicuous self-caresses, like a hand over your heart or a quick hug.
4. Write yourself a short letter of encouragement and understanding. In one study, people who did this daily for one week reported feeling happier and less depressed three months later.
The article also talked about accepting painful feelings without denying or fighting them. Those of us with physical pain can do this as well: Find a quiet place to lie down. Do a body scan, starting at the soles of your feet and slowly moving upward. Consciously send comforting thoughts to any area where you find pain or discomfort. You can place your hand over the area, or tense and relax the muscles in the area to release tension.
I believe that both self-esteem and self-compassion are important, and they go hand in hand. If you feel good about yourself, you will be more accepting and caring of yourself, and if you are kind to yourself, it will enhance your acceptance of yourself and good feelings toward yourself.
For more of Dr. Neff's thoughts on self-compassion, go to her website, www.self-compassion.org. There you will find, among other things, videos, suggested reading, links, research articles, as well as a test to see how self-compassionate you are, and exercises and meditations to increase your self-compassion. Or buy her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Or both.