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Self Compassion

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brighteningup

I've been reading through some of the posts and couldn't spot anything on self compassion so thought I'd add it here. Please move this if it should be elsewhere.

 

A number of people have talked about how they have found self acceptance, mindfulness and meditation helpful. I wonder if any of you have come across self compassion.

 

Self compassion is becoming increasingly well researched and seen as a possible way of assisting people who experience depression and anxiety.

 

One of the key researchers in this area is Dr Kirsten Neff a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. She describes self compassion as follows:

 

"…self compassion entails three core components. First, it requires *self kindness*, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental. Second, it requires recognition of our *common humanity*, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Thirdly, it requires *mindfulness* - that we hold ourselves in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exagerating it"

Kirsten Neff, page 41, in 'Self Compassion Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave Insecurity Behind', 2011, Harper Collins.

 

There is much more about this on her website:

 

www.self-compassion.org

 

this includes some useful videos where she talks about the concept further.

 

As I understand it partly draws on the buddhist concepts of cultivating compassion to ourselves and others.

 

Neff also describes it like this:

"By giving ourselves unconditonal kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity and isolation. At the same time, self compassion fosters states such as happiness and optimism. The nuturing quality of self-compassion allow us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life even in hard times."(Neff, 2011, pages 12-13).

 

Neff also argues that the concept of self compassion is more useful and beneficial than high self esteem.

 

Developing self compassion helps us to understand that all human's make mistakes, and that we need to stop beating up on ourselves. More than that research suggests that increases self compassion can also aid release of a hormone called oxytocin. It's found to be released in caregiving situations such as when mothers breastfeed or someone gives someone a tender caress.

 

"Research has also shown that increased levels of oxytocin sttrongly increase feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness and and also facilitate the ability to feel warmth and compassion for ourselves. Oxytocin reduces fear ans anxiety and can counteract the increased blood pressure and cortisol associated with stress."(Neff, 2011, page 48)

 

Neff accepts if we've been very self critical of ourselves for a long time we might find it rather difficult to be self compassionate, and apparently some people actually find that when they start to be more compassionate to themselves the negative self talk in your head can actually get worse before it gets better. It's a phenomenom she and Chris Germer call 'backdraft'. This is something I experienced myself when I started trying to do loving kindness meditation - it was really quite scary, I suddenly had thoughts in my head where I called myself really nasty names.

 

Neff explains it as follows:

"people who are used to constant self criticism often erupt with anger and intense negative emotions when they first try to take a kinder, more gentle approach to themselves. It's as if their sense of self has been so invested in feeling inadequate this 'worthless self' fights for survival when it's threatened. The way to deal with backdraft of course, is to mindfully accept the experience and have compassion for how hard it is to experience such negativity."(Neff, 2011, page 131)

 

Kirsten Neff suggests all sorts of ways in which we can start to be more self compassionate. These include giving yourself a hug (wrap your arms around yourself and caress your arms gently) in private if you feel self conscious, although if other people are around just folding your arms and stroking them a bit can help. I've done this, it felt a bit weird at first but can be very calming. Apparently something this simple can help release oxytocin.

 

Other suggestions include talking to yourself in a kind and caring way, 'poor you, your having a really rough day' and writing a really caring and sympathetic letter to yourself.

 

One of my favourites though is a self compassion mantra. I've found that

although I found meditation has helped my anxiety in the past I find it really difficult to do at the moment. This mantra has really helped, you can use it any time you find things difficult. Youu can change the words to something that suits you best, but I find the one in Kirsten Neffs book works fine for me:

 

 

"This is a moment of suffering

Suffering is part of life

May I be kind to myself in this moment

May I give myself the compassion that I need"

 

 

Krsten Neff explains the importance of the phrases as follows,

 

"The first phrase 'this is a moment of suffering' is important because it brings mindfulness to the fact that you're in pain. If you're upset because you notice you've gained a few pounds, or you get pulled over for a traffic violation, it's often hard to remember that these are moments of suffering worthy of compassion.

The second phrase, "Suffering is part of life" reminds you that imperfection is part of the shared human condition. You don't need to fight against the fact that things aren't exactly how you want them to be, because this is a normal, natural state of affairs. More than that, it's one every other person on the planet experiences, and you're certainly not alone in your predicament.

The third phrase, 'May I be kind to myself in this moment' helps bring a sense of caring concern to your present experience. Your heart starts to soften when you smoothe and comfort yourself for the pain you're going through.

The final phrase 'May I give myself the compassion I need' firmly sets your intention to be self-compassionate and reminds you that you are worthy of receiving compassionate care"(Neff, 2011, 120)

 

I've only just skimmed through the concept here but I hope some of you find this interesting.

 

I recommed the book if you're interested and the website again is:

 

www.self-compassion.org

 

There's also a recent book by Paul Gilbert, a uk professor of psychology and clinical psychologist, called The Compassionate Mind (2009) and he has set up a charity with others called the Compassionate Mind Foundation, the website is:

 

www.compassionatemind.co.uk

 

Anyway hope you find this interesting, and maybe helpful too.

 

Brighteningup

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Altostrata

This is so important to us all. If there's one thing I've had to learn from being hampered by withdrawal syndrome, it's to be compassionate to myself.

 

Thank you for posting it, Bright.

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Nadia

Wow, thanks so much for posting this.

 

I think it's something I really need to work on. I have a tendency to feel that being compassionate with myself is being weak. For some reason I had this since I was little. I remember coming home from school once, when I was about 6, and telling my mom I didn't have any friends at school, or that kids didn't really relate to me and thought I was weird. My mom hugged me and tried to comfort me, and I think I started crying... and then I felt a horrible feeling of disgust with myself, like I was making a big deal out of nothing.

 

I still have that... the I'm making a big deal out of nothing feeling. Then sometimes I DO try to make space for my negative emotions, and say "I'm having a bad time" or "I'm not doing well" and other people can think its silly... I remember once a friend saying, REALLY annoyed with me, "stop saying you're not doing well, you're just sulking in it and it's going to make things worse". For me, though, it was a huge step to admit it out loud.

 

Though it's true that the flipside of this is the sulking, wanting something to come magically pull you out and not taking responsibility... which in essence is a form of not accepting. I like what you quote Dr. Neff saying about not ignoring our pain OR exaggerating it. It's a subtle balance.

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alexjuice

Thank you for sharing this.

 

Due to my secret location in the large capital city of a large American state, I've been able to talk, email and meet on occasion with some academics at the very large and well-funded university headquartered very close to my secret location, especially from Psych Dept. There is also a Neuro-Science Institute, but I'm not aware of anybody on the faculty studying psychiatric medication effect on humans over in Neuro.

 

Anyway, I know several faculty members but am unfamiliar with Dr. Neff. (I like the idea that she is near the secret location... cuz you never know.)

 

I find the idea of self-compassion really important though I sometimes get frustrated with proponents of 'loving and accepting yourself' psychological solutions. In my experience there are a lot of problems that need more specifics in the solving than simply giving yourself a big hug.

 

I should restate that I actually liked what was shared lest I sound negative.

 

Alex.i

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brighteningup

I have a tendency to feel that being compassionate with myself is being weak. For some reason I had this since I was little. I remember coming home from school once, when I was about 6, and telling my mom I didn't have any friends at school, or that kids didn't really relate to me and thought I was weird. My mom hugged me and tried to comfort me, and I think I started crying... and then I felt a horrible feeling of disgust with myself, like I was making a big deal out of nothing.

 

 

I really can relate this. I got bullied a lot at school, for many years, and I didn't really get any help with it, and felt I was wrong and weak for not being able to handle it. It was worst when I was around 6 and 7. My teachers response was that I was lying, (she was just a bad teacher). My family did their best, but my parents did not really know what to do (they were of the pull yourself together and get on with it generation), my Mum meant well but had not idea how to comfort me, and my grandfather decided I should toughen up a bit and tried to get me 'used to being teased'. The result - I spent about a year hiding every school break so I didn't get hit (this probably wasn't likely to happen but I though it was) and I trace the start of my anxiety to around then. I also learnt to try and shut off and discourage negative emotions - something that now has come back to bite me and I am slowly trying to reverse.

 

 

I still have that... the I'm making a big deal out of nothing feeling. Then sometimes I DO try to make space for my negative emotions, and say "I'm having a bad time" or "I'm not doing well" and other people can think its silly... I remember once a friend saying, REALLY annoyed with me, "stop saying you're not doing well, you're just sulking in it and it's going to make things worse". For me, though, it was a huge step to admit it out loud.

 

 

I think it's really brave, that you're able to tell other people you feel like this - I still find that almost impossible to do (and I live in fear that people might react like your friend did so I would of find it very hard if someone had reacted to me like that). I talk in abstracts but I find it really really hard to actually say how I really feel emotionally about negative stuff to anyone - even my husband whom I'm very close too. (I finally manage to admit some of it to the clinical psychologist I've been seeing, but she's really the first person I've managed this with whose not my husband)

 

Though it's true that the flipside of this is the sulking, wanting something to come magically pull you out and not taking responsibility... which in essence is a form of not accepting. I like what you quote Dr. Neff saying about not ignoring our pain OR exaggerating it. It's a subtle balance.

 

I agree, and it's getting the balance right that can be tough.

 

Although I'm trying to practice various aspects of self-compassion with myself it's a real challenge for me. Sometimes my brain still wants to know what on earth do I think I'm doing, and worries about becoming selfish. It's why I quite like the hugging thing it's an immediate tiny action that helps a bit, and my brain doesn't get a chance to argue with me about it, but obviously on it's own it won't be enough this is an ongoing process that will take doing all sorts of different things, from hot baths, to meditation, to walking out in the country sometimes, to somehow re-jigging some of the ways I've been thinking aout things fir years and years.

 

Which brings me to:

 

 

I find the idea of self-compassion really important though I sometimes get frustrated with proponents of 'loving and accepting yourself' psychological solutions. In my experience there are a lot of problems that need more specifics in the solving than simply giving yourself a big hug.

 

I should restate that I actually liked what was shared lest I sound negative.

 

 

This is so very true. One of the things I like about Kirsten Neff's writing is she does not suggest that self-compassion is going to be some kind of magical easy quick fix (plus she actually refers to a lot of published studies - not just her own...).

 

I'd like to quote a bit more of her book here, cos it sums it up so much better than I could (apologies this is a bit of a long quote)...

 

From Dr Neff's book Self Compassion Stop Beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind (2011):-

 

[people] often feel great enthusiasm for self-compasion practice as they begin to realize what a powerful tool it is. Germer* calls this the "infatuation stage". After battling themselves for so long people, often fall in love with the peace and freedom they find by relating to themselves in a tender way. Like receiving a kiss from a new lover they tremble fom head to toe. During this stage, people tend to get attached to the good feelings provided by self-compassion, and they want to experience those good feelings constantly

 

As time goes by, however, the infatuation typically fades as people realize that self-compassion doesn't magically make all their negative thoughts and feelings go away. Remember that self-compassion doesn't eradicate pain or negative experiences, it just embraces them with kindness and give them space to transform on their won. When people practice self-compassion as a subtle way of resisting their negative emotions, not only will bad feelings remain, they will often get worse [...]

 

If people can stick with the practive during this tricky middle but, they eventually discover the wisdom of "true acceptance". During this stage, the motivation for self-compassion shifts from "cure" to "care". The fact that life is painful, and that we are all imperfect, is then fully accepted as an integral part of being alive. It vecomes understood that happiness is not dependent on circumstances being exactly as we'd like them to be. Rather, happiness stems from loving ourselves and our lives exaxtly as they are, knowing that joy and pain, strength and weakness, glory and failure are all essential to human experience.

 

(Neff, 2011, pages 131-132)

(* Chrisopher Germer is clinical psychologist affiliated Harvard who "teaches self compassion to most of his therapy clients". He also runs self-compaasion workshops with Kirsten Neff)

 

I'm still very much stuck in the "tricky middle bit". Part of me still would really like an easy fix, but I'm slowly realising I can't expect to turn around 30 plus years of anxiety overnight.

 

Bright

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Nadia

Bright... I relate to so much of what you say! My mom was also the get yourself together type (my dad was mostly absent when I was younger). For her things were worse... my grandparents went through a war and she got no breaks at all. It has made her a very strong but also difficult person (though she has changed a ton and softened post menopause). My mom hugging me that one time was a rare occasion. Usually I got yelled at for not being happy. Crying wasn't allowed. Never was I asked how I was doing. It was OK to be physically ill, but not depressed or angry or any negative emotion. I too learned to shove all my negative emotions down or try to control them with thoughts. Obviously this backfired, things would build up and explode.

 

Later I started learning to accept my negative feelings and give them room, but I think being on antidepressants made things so much easier to deal with that I fell out of practice with skills I never really dominated. I HAVE gotten to a point when sometimes I can tell certain people how I feel, but I get shut down immediately when I get a negative response. It makes it really hard to train yourself to accept your own emotions when other people don't. I'm dealing with this a lot now since no one seems to really believe just how much I'm suffering with this withdrawal stuff... it's so hard to find the balance internally of not feeling sorry for myself while still supporting and validating my feelings... sometimes I manage it, but then dealing with the "public" aspect of it is much harder!

 

I too feel self-involved and selfish often when I try to express my pain. Pain pretty much does make you completely involved in yourself! But I think something that I learned (intellectually, still working on the emotional part) over the years was that there's a difference between being selfish and being self FULL. I figured out the hard way that you have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else. From a spiritual standpoint, what really convinced me was that I am a part of the universe just like anything else, so there is no reason in abusing myself or caring about myself any less than I would any other thing or being. I have been entrusted this piece of the universe that is ME, and I better take good care of it and treat it nicely. This in turn will allow me to care for others and show compassion to everyone. I often have used the example of the oxygen masks in airplanes. At first I had this knee-jerk reaction that it seemed "wrong" that they instructed you to put on your own mask before you helped others... then it struck me... of course! If you pass out from lack of oxygen, you won't be able to help ANYone.

 

Right... self compassion is no easy fix, it won't solve everything, but it's a first step.

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brighteningup

Bright... I relate to so much of what you say! My mom was also the get yourself together type (my dad was mostly absent when I was younger). For her things were worse... my grandparents went through a war and she got no breaks at all. It has made her a very strong but also difficult person (though she has changed a ton and softened post menopause).

 

My Mum was in a very similar position, she was born at the start of a war, they were dropping bombs on hospital as she was born! Her Dad was in the forces and she hardly saw him 'til she was 10, after the war ended his overseas postings just kept being extended. Her relationship with her parents was difficult to say the least (especially with her own Mum)...sadly it's left her chronically anxious, I have to confess I often find her very hard work (although she can be great fun and very imaginative as well). Seems bad to say I find my Mum hard work - I should be compassionate towards her too I know - and I do my best, but I think I may be a bit short with her sometimes, she just seems to push all the wrong buttons sometimes.

 

 

My mom hugging me that one time was a rare occasion. Usually I got yelled at for not being happy. Crying wasn't allowed. Never was I asked how I was doing. It was OK to be physically ill, but not depressed or angry or any negative emotion. I too learned to shove all my negative emotions down or try to control them with thoughts. Obviously this backfired, things would build up and explode.

 

It must have been tough having to suppress your feelings that much, and not to be hugged that often, and I can see how this would backfire in the end. I was allowed to cry, but it would make my Mum more anxious so she did not really know how to respond - she often try to jolly me out of it, or say what I was upset about couldn't be that bad really. It meant I didn't really learn to give myself the space to be sad or angry and this is a skill I'm now learning (that you can do this without it turning into a pity party or you losing control - and also that this space IS NEEDED sometimes).

 

Instinctively from quite young I would always try and minimise things that made my Mum anxious. My Dad was generally very supportive (I was very lucky here)- just when I was most stressed out, he was also going through a really bad few years at work so had his own (close to nervous breakdown) problems at the time.

 

Interestingly when I tried to talk to my Mum when I was depressed about how I felt she couldn't really handle it (even though she's been depressed herself)- saying you should talk to your father, he's much better at that sort of stuff...and he is, he just can't handle anger or other negative emotions that he has himself that well (but that's another story).

 

 

I too feel self-involved and selfish often when I try to express my pain. Pain pretty much does make you completely involved in yourself! But I think something that I learned (intellectually, still working on the emotional part) over the years was that there's a difference between being selfish and being self FULL. I figured out the hard way that you have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else. From a spiritual standpoint, what really convinced me was that I am a part of the universe just like anything else, so there is no reason in abusing myself or caring about myself any less than I would any other thing or being. I have been entrusted this piece of the universe that is ME, and I better take good care of it and treat it nicely. This in turn will allow me to care for others and show compassion to everyone. I often have used the example of the oxygen masks in airplanes. At first I had this knee-jerk reaction that it seemed "wrong" that they instructed you to put on your own mask before you helped others... then it struck me... of course! If you pass out from lack of oxygen, you won't be able to help anyone.

 

Right... self compassion is no easy fix, it won't solve everything, but it's a first step.

 

 

Thank you Nadia, I think that's a really beautiful way of putting it and gives me a really wonderful different way of looking at things.

 

I think there must be lots of us out there who find self-compassion difficult, and I find your way of thinking about things very comforting - I hope it helps others too.

 

Bright

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Nadia

Bright, thanks for your response.

 

I understand suppressing your emotions to protect your mum. That makes a lot of sense.

 

I'd like to respond more, but right now I'm really under the gun at work and also just not feeling great. But don't take that as lack of enthusiasm on my part!

 

More soon...

 

N.

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