05 Jan New Year’s Resolution: Self-Compassion
I learned about Dr. Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion in graduate school. I was searching for a method to help clients with their harsh self-criticism. The self-criticism that I was hearing over and over in session hurt my heart.
Of course, when something bothers us as therapists, it’s probably because it hits close to home. I’m certainly no stranger to self-criticism. Sadly, self-criticism is common, but we often believe that negative, continuous self-analysis is unique to ourselves. A personal failing because we’re so flawed.
The problem comes when there is an inability to stop the criticism and reassure ourselves that we’re OK. My clinical supervisor led me to Neff’s work on self-compassion. It changed my life both personally and as a therapist.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is treating yourself the way you would treat a good friend or child during times of disappointment or failure. Acceptance plays a key role too. The ability to accept that an element of self or life may not be as desired without losing hope in your power to change.
Self-compassion would sound like telling yourself, “I know failing is hard and that you tried your best.” Self-compassion would not sound like, “You are such an idiot, you should have known better, you deserve what happened at work today.”
We use words with self that we would never use with people we don’t like much less someone we love. When I first started discussing self-compassion with clients and colleagues, I would see raised eyebrows and looks of discomfort. Be nice to myself? I can’t do that.
Another concern that I hear is the idea that if I am nice to myself then I will lose my ambition and motivation. A sense that we need the discipline to accomplish things like projects or weight loss.
This concern is borne out in the research surveys with participants as well. Essentially, the thinking seemed to be that compassion to self equals “weak and lazy” behavior.
The research shows just the opposite! Evidence demonstrates that self-compassion can actually increase motivation and decrease anxiety, perfectionism, and depression. You can be nice to yourself AND get shit done. Will wonders never cease, right?
It helps to put it in this context – Imagine teaching a child to tie their shoes. Would you berate them if they knotted the laces or would use gentle encouraging words? You would use encouraging words and it would increase the child’s chances of learning to tie their shoes instead of fearing their shoes. This is the same for adults learning a new skill or a new behavior.
3 Self-Compassion Practices
- Treat Yourself the Way You Would Treat a Friend: When you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk, stop, and rephrase in language you would use on a good friend.
- Take Care of the Caregiver (that’s you!): Give yourself permission to meet your own needs such as a lunch break, listening to soothing music, or a nap. This will raise the quality of your life and those that count on you.
- Explore Self-Compassion in Writing: Take something that you would like to change. This thing may cause feelings of shame and insecurity. Write a letter to yourself about this thing and try to do it from a place of acceptance and compassion.
Dr. Neff calls herself an evangelist of self-compassion. See for yourself in her TED talk below.
Kate Murphy, LMSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Berkeley Lake, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.