By August 11, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Don’t forget to follow the ‘Golden Rule’

By Kirsten Weir You screwed up. Maybe you came unprepared to an important meeting, or got into a fender bender while distracted by your cell phone. If something similar had happened to a good friend or family member, you’d probably tell them, “Don’t beat yourself up!” We rarely give ourselves that same advice.

But maybe we should. Recent research in the burgeoning field of “self-compassion” suggests there are good reasons to be kinder to oneself.

“It’s a very old idea, discussed by Buddhists 2,500 years ago, but it hadn’t yet been looked at from a research perspective,” says Kristin Neff, PhD, a professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin, who is among the researchers exploring the area.

Studying Buddhist meditation, Neff had become familiar with the idea of self-compassion — basically, being nice to yourself. As a postdoc, she’d studied self-esteem and found that while it’s associated with many positive mental health outcomes, it’s also linked to negatives such as narcissism. “As I started becoming more familiar with the problems of self-esteem, I thought self-compassion could offer a real alternative,” she says.

She set about defining self-compassion from an academic perspective and developing a scale to measure it. That work led to a pair of papers in Self and Identity (Vol. 2, No. 2–3) in 2003 and her new book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind” (2011).

According to Neff’s definition, self-compassion entails three main components. The first (and most obvious) is to be understanding rather than self-judgmental. “Most people’s internal dialogue is actually quite harsh,” Neff says. “The self-kindness part requires reframing your dialogue so that you’re kind and supportive.”

The second component involves framing your personal experience in light of a shared human experience. When something goes awry — your car breaks down on the highway, say, or a family member gets a worrisome medical diagnosis — a common emotional reaction is “Why me?” The sense that things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to can lead to feelings of isolation, which is in turn linked to anxiety and depression, says Neff. “The opposite of that reaction is recognizing that the human experience entails imperfection,” she says. “When you’re compassionate toward yourself, you can actually feel connected to other people in your suffering.”

The third element of self-compassion centers on awareness. In the last decade or so, the Buddhist concept of mindfulness has begun to permeate psychology. After a lot of mulling, Neff came to believe that mindfulness is also a necessary piece of self-compassion. “You have to be mindful of your suffering in order to give it compassion,” she says.

Continue reading on the American Psychological Association’s website.

Posted in: Behavior, For Moms

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