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Nurturing Self-Compassion

Updated: May 1, 2020

Key Insights from Dr. Kristin Neff

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture and workshop put on by the highly esteemed Dr. Kristin Neff. She is one of (if not the) leading expert in self-compassion. Even though I have been following and teaching Dr. Neff’s work for the past five years, it was such an incredible opportunity to hear her speak in person. I learned a LOT!

Dr. Neff began by addressing the problems with placing such a huge focus on the promotion of self-esteem. Although we know that people with higher self-esteem feel better, the problem is how you get high self-esteem. In order to have high self-esteem, you need to feel special and above average. This inherently encourages social comparison – finding ways you are better than others, so you can feel better about yourself. Higher self-esteem is also highly associated with narcissism, bullying and prejudice – as well as perfectionistic tendencies. In Dr. Neff’s words, “The need to feel special and above average can lead to negative consequences”. This is where self-compassion comes in! To practice self-compassion we have to be mindful of our experiences – rather than comparing ourselves to others. Self-compassion is about giving ourselves the same loving kindness that we give to other people. When we are in a state of self-compassion, we are in a state of loving, connection and presence. Research shows that self-compassion is strongly linked to well-being - specifically lower levels of anxiety, depression, stress, perfectionism, shame and body dissatisfaction. WOW! These destructive feelings are all too common in society today. One can only imagine the benefits of a society practicing self-compassion as a whole… There has been an exponential increase in the research on self-compassion over the past decade – with over 1600 publications on the topic to date! Self-compassion involves three components:

  • Self-kindness (speaking kindly to oneself),

  • Common humanity (recognizing that others go through difficult situations as well, and this is part of being human), and

  • Mindfulness (acknowledging thoughts with non-judgment and acceptance).

When we regularly practice self-compassion, it becomes particularly helpful when going through difficult situations. The YIN and YANG of Self-Compassion

One of the many new things I learned about self-compassion from Dr. Neff is that there are two parts –yin and yang. When we are with ourselves in a compassionate way – comforting, soothing and validating – this is the yin part of self-compassion. An example would be when feeling anxious, stressed out or frustrated, take a few moments to be present, breathe deeply, place your hands over your heart (or whatever pose is comforting to you), acknowledge these feelings, and repeat some loving phrases to yourself. On the other side, the yang perspective of practicing self-compassion means we act in a compassionate way out in the world – protecting, providing and motivating. This can be working to earn the means to put food on the table, or it can be protecting and taking care of ourselves by saying NO. Do you struggle with saying NO? Check out one of my favourite articles on this topic by Dr. Christine Carter here. The word compassion means “concern with alleviation of suffering”. Sometimes this comes from a soothing perspective (yin), but this can also come from a protecting perspective (yang). I think it can be very helpful to recognize that there are many ways to practice self-compassion. It isn’t just about soothing and comforting – standing up for oneself and saying NO or setting appropriate boundaries is key as well. My interest in self-compassion comes from it helping to overcome struggles I’ve faced in life -- stress and anxiety while finishing up my PhD, and a 2-year journey with infertility, celiac disease & irritable bowel syndrome. I will continue to share what self-compassion is, how to practice it and how it can help YOU. If you want immediate help – can read more here. One last note! Dr. Neff recently launched a self-compassion workbook – you can check it out here. I just ordered mine and can’t wait to check it out!* *I am in no way affiliated with this book and do not receive funds from sales of the workbook.

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