Inspiration this Week: Dr. Kristin Neff

Dr. Kristin Neff is an associate professor at University of Texas, researching and writing about the restorative powers of self-compassion. She currently runs the website www.self-compassion.org and has written several books and educational courses on mindful self-compassion. I first heard about her through Brene Brown's recommendation and then went on to read her first book which offers some really great insights on how to love yourself. Please do yourself a favor and check out her website and take the self-compassion test and try out some of the exercises! Below I share a couple highlights from her work...

Theme of the Week: Self-Compassion

If you're in therapy with me, I know you've heard me use that term before. It's one of those therapy buzz words, but what does it really mean to be self-compassionate? Let's dissect the term a little more so you have some more concrete ways to go about being more self-compassionate...

What Self-Compassion is NOT:

Sometimes it's best to start with what it isn't so we can eliminate any misconceptions. Self-compassion is NOT self-pity. Self-pity is a way of separating ourselves from others and exaggerating our personal suffering. Self-compassion is NOT self-indulgence. People tend to confuse the two and think that just giving oneself pleasure is a way of being self-compassionate, and the worry is that we'll let ourselves get away with anything. So it does not mean drinking problems away or vegging out on Netflix and ice-cream; that does not alleviate the suffering or solve any problems. Self-compassion is NOT self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to how we value ourselves, and in the American culture, building higher self-esteem usually involves some narcissistic tendencies and trying to over-highlight positive things about ourselves while neglecting personal growth or accountability moments, which then results in potentially knocking others down to make ourselves feel good. 

Self-Compassion IS:

Self compassion means that you treat yourself with kindness in the face of BOTH success and failures, as well as positive traits and shortcomings. It means both giving yourself a pat on the back and love/appreciation when you are doing well. But also doing the exact same thing when you are going through a rough time. As Dr. Kristin Neff says, it's about "honoring and accepting your humanness." Most importantly, it is about accepting that as humans, we are NOT perfect and despite our struggles we are all worthy. So here are some elements of self-compassion to consider...

Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment

Be kind and warm towards yourself when experiencing pain, failings, and suffering rather than ignoring the issue or indulging in self-criticism. Accept the reality that we are not perfect and therefore we will inevitably struggle at some points and may not always get what we want or meet our goals as hoped. It is important to be gentle and acknowledging of that pain rather than ignoring it or getting angry at ourselves. Choose to give yourself a metaphorical or literal hug in those moments instead of berating yourself for your shortcomings. 

Common Humanity vs. Isolation

It can be very hard to see the forest for the trees in times of suffering or failure. When you fail, you may feel isolated and "this is only happening to me." This is where shame can force us into hiding and isolation, or separating our experience from others. Instead, it's important to recognize that as part of the shared human experience, we all go through pain and failure. So you are not alone and I promise you are not the only person to ever make the mistake that you just made. Remind yourself that you are just embracing being human, and that involves flaws and personal inadequacies; we all have them.

Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

It can be really easy to get stuck in the worm-hole of shame and depression when we suffer. We can over-identify with the negative thought patterns or on the other end of the spectrum, try to deny the feelings completely and numb-out. It's important to practice mindfulness of our full emotional state and be careful not to over-identify or deny pain. So try to stay present with the negative feelings and notice the bodily sensations as they shift and move. Observe the pain without judgment or forced action, just as it is and watch it move. It WILL pass and in the process, it may give you some more clarity about what to do next.

Challenge for this Week: Practice Self-Compassion

There it is again, that annoying thing I keep saying, "practice." Yes, this stuff above is an active practice and takes commitment. No, you won't get it perfect immediately, and trying to defeats the entire message today. But having a commitment to choosing these components of self-compassion on the regular will help you navigate those very real, human shortcomings, failures, and missteps in a much more effective and compassionate way. And next thing you know it you'll be on to the next success or milestone! Again, feel free to visit www.self-compassion.org for some great resources on exercises and guided meditations you can use to enhance your practice!

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