Have you ever thought that being kind to yourself means you’re letting yourself off the hook – that it’ll mean you’ll continue to indulge in your unhelpful behaviors? This is a common misconception: somehow we’ve come to believe that kindness to ourselves is a bad thing.
Why doesn’t self-deprecation work?
When you’re trying to train a new puppy, reward based systems are the most useful. Shouting and rubbing their noses in their excrement is outdated and recognized as abuse. It doesn’t teach them anything other than fear. They shut down. They don’t become curious about what they did, and eager to understand how to do it differently; their primary motivation is to avoid physical or emotional pain.
Humans are no different. Being hard on yourself, abusing yourself for wrongdoing, and fearing failure are all extremely detrimental. If you can’t be kind to yourself, then it’s as though there’s no refuge. Wherever you go, there you are, taunting and hurting yourself. You can’t get away from it – that is, unless you develop self-compassion.
What is self compassion?
Kristin Neff, a recognized self-compassion researcher from Austin, TX, defines self-compassion as having 3 components. Mindful awareness involves being in the moment with as much acceptance and as little judgement as possible. Loving kindness is about treating yourself with kindness, regardless of your weight, how you got there, what you think you should or should not have done, etc. Common humanity is an acknowledgement that you’re not alone and that suffering is part of life.
By introducing yourself to self-compassion, you can reduce depression and anxiety, and improve attention and concentration. It is associated with a decrease in the incidence of heart disease due to a reduction in blood pressure, while it also lowers fasting blood glucose and decreases insulin resistance. With a bit of compassion, you can boost your body image and decrease problematic emotional eating.
A study on emotional eating was done with dieting college students in 2007 at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, US. The whole group had to eat a ‘forbidden food’, a doughnut. Then the group was split in half. Group A heard a compassionate message, something to the effect of: ‘Everyone overeats sometimes. It’s not the end of the world; you’ll get back to healthy eating at the next meal.’ Group B didn’t get any other input; they were left with their guilt at having broken their diet rules. Both groups were then taken into separate rooms, shown a movie, and had in front of them, a large bowl of candies.
Guess what happened? Group A had a taste of some of the sweets, but didn’t have much. Group B, the group of students left with their guilt and self-criticism, ate a LOT of the candies. It revealed a link that compassion pairs with understanding and self-regulation, while guilt often pairs with over-indulgence.
How can you start improving self-compassion?
In life, practice is the only way we can improve any skill we lack. If you want to be better at anything, it does require that you put in the effort. This is no different.
Here are a couple of things you can try:
- Learn about and practice mindfulness meditation.
- Try some of these compassionate and loving meditations (http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/meditations_downloads.php)
- Work self-compassion into your day. Every time you notice you’re being hard on yourself, take a breath, acknowledge the self-loathing thought, and then redirect your thoughts back to ones of loving kindness towards yourself. Practice talking to yourself as if you were your own best friend.
Remember, this all takes time and attention. Please be patient with yourself. That is the first step.
Wake Forest Study citation; http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/AdamsLearyeating_attitudes.pdf
Three elements of self-compassion – Kristin Neff http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/
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