We've seen in the previous episode how trying to increase one's self-esteem is a dangerous proposition, and how having high self-esteem is not necessarily a good thing. Now it's time to look at another approach to the self which is a lot more promising.
Self-compassion is an idea taken originally from traditional buddhist psychology, but now studied fairly extensively with the scientific method. In a word, it's being nice to yourself. It is trying to be your own "best friend" by thinking about how a good friend would relate to you in moments of difficulty, and adopting that behaviour towards yourself. This is in sharp opposition with self-criticism, which is most people's response when something is going wrong in their lives.
There are three main components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness. Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present moment, rather than getting lost in thoughts about the past, the future, or hypothetical events. Common humanity is the idea that you aren't the only one who is suffering this way, and that pain and disappointment are a normal part of life for everyone. Kindness is about just being nice to yourself, making your inner talk of the kind that a good friend might use when comforting you.
The benefits of self-compassion are numerous and well-documented. They include:
- reduced risk of anxiety and depression; - experiencing fewer negative emotions, such as fear, irritability, hostility, or distress; - the ability to persevere in the face of failure; - reduced procrastination; and - greater motivation and a higher likelihood of achieving goals.
Self-compassion is distinct from self-pity and self-indulgence. In self-pity, we see our own lives as the worst, and that we alone are having a hard time, whereas in self-compassion we focus on how we are similar to others through our common humanity. Self-compassion does not lead us to eat a barrel of ice-cream a day as self-indulgence would, but asks the question: "What would be the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?" Sometimes this is having a break, and sometimes it could be indulging in some ice-cream. But often it is working or studying. The aim isn't to indulge, but to do what is honestly good for you at the time.
This may be a difficult topic for some, as dropping the internal critic and instead adopting a kind, supportive voice seems so counter-intuitive and against our culture. It also might seem a bit of a "flowery" thing to be saying, and might therefore sound "unscientific" by the standards of this podcast. Kristin Neff's work is well backed-up by scientific studies, though, so I hope that you can be open-minded towards this new way of relating to oneself.
Enjoy the episode.
Music by podcastthemes.com.