Monday, September 26, 2011

A Few Thoughts About Self Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff's book on self compassion was published in April 2011. We've followed her website for some time and used her work in the work we do. Our expectations for her book were high. She didn't disappoint.
Human minds seem to naturally be judging, judging, and judging some more. Many people tend to build themselves up by putting others down. The idea seems to be that if someone see themselves as better than someone else then they feel better about themselves. Bullies do this to an extreme and gather allies to join them to  further prove their superiority over another human being. Given that in this country we seem fixated on being above average as a way of having self-esteem, that means finding someone or lots of someones you see as beneath you. The judging doesn't stop with others but usually includes harsh judgments of themselves as well.
Dr. Neff explains clearly how that is a set-up for problems and why it doesn't work. She offers self compassion as an alternative to self esteem.  She points out that if people see conflicts as being between two groups of people, such as between women and men or between different nationalities,  they tend to be more accepting of the differences than if they think of the conflicts as being between human beings. That leads to one of her main pathways to self compassion--accepting that what we experience are is part of the human condition. We all experience loss, disappointment, failure, shame and regret.
To truly experience self compassion is to not judge. Self compassion means to understand and accept. Is she saying nothing should be judged as wrong? No. Dr. Neff describes discriminate wisdom as the ability to separate the action from the person. Stealing is wrong. Understanding that the person who stole was hungry helps you have compassion.
Teaching a nonjudgmental stance is part of DBT. Perhaps teaching self compassion as what to do instead of judging adds an important component.
Self compassion also adds to the understanding of invalidation, perhaps helping stop the behavior. Understanding that every human being makes mistakes and is fallible and that there are multiple reasons for the missteps and less than desirable decisions encourages the logic and truth of stopping invalidating statements.
Perhaps most important of all, Dr. Neff cites research that shows people practicing self compassion are less likely to be depressed or anxious and have a more stable sense of security. That's a significant result.

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