So, what is it?
Self-compassion is simply the act of treating yourself the same way you would treat a friend after they’ve behaved “inadequately”—of course, emphasis on the quotation marks.
Think of a time when this has happened, when a friend made a mistake in their own life and you were there to console them. What did you say to them? Did you tell them they were a complete idiot and that there was no way to mend the situation? Or, did you tell them that everyone makes mistakes, it’s an opportunity to learn from, and they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it?
We bet (and hope) it was the second. The cliche is true: we’re our own harshest critics. We treat ourselves in ways we would never treat other people. Don’t believe us? Try saying out loud to your friends, the things you say to yourself in your head. This is a surefire way to expose how mean we are to ourselves. Disclaimer: you may lose friends.
Although the origins of self-compassion are rooted in the Buddhist tradition, it has seen light in the scientific sphere, mainly led by Dr. Kristin Neff, an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is known as the pioneer of self-compassion research.
But, why do we do it?
This little thing called negativity bias, which is the phenomenon that we tend to put more weight on our flaws and inadequacies than our successes. According to the editor at Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Morano, explains that “nastiness just makes a bigger impact on our brains.”
It’s innately human to do this. That’s why self-compassion takes practice. The first step in scaring away our negative internal chatters is to be more mindful. Dr. Neff says that we must first mindfully acknowledge our pain in a nonjudgmental way. Then, we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that imperfection is part of a shared human experience.
Ok, and what does it do to us?
Dr. Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that self-criticism can negatively harm our bodies by “stimulating inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerate aging.”
We can see the shocking results of self-compassion practice in one study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress on military vets: “Those who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, the presence of self-compassion was a better predictor of long-term mental health than how much combat action they had seen.” Doesn’t sound so flowery after all, does it?
How do we solve it?
That’s coming up.