PRACTICING SELF-COMPASSION IN TODAY’S WORLDPosted on October 8, 2014 by Ines
Practicing Self-Compassion In Today’s WorldIf we eavesdropped on the continuous thread of commentary in other’s minds, I imagine we would be surprised at how cruel we are to ourselves. In fact, if self-criticism were a disease, it would likely dwarf other epidemics. If, like so many others, you are your own worst critic, you know what psychological distress this relentless mental criticism can cause.
Cultivating self-compassion is probably the best way to combat this source of suffering. In fact, people with greater levels of self-compassion have less anxiety and depression, increased psychological strengths and positive emotions, a greater ability to forgive, and better able to navigate difficult life events.
If self-compassion were a commodity, ads for it might feature a soft breeze blowing through a tropical paradise in your mind. So what is self-compassion and how does it differ from self-esteem?
According to a Duke and Wake Forest University study published several years ago, self-compassion involves recognizing your own suffering, feeling moved to respond to it with kindness, and understanding that you are not suffering in isolation, and cultivating a practise of mindfulness. Although a dictionary definition of self-esteem describes it as “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself” in Western culture, self-esteem is often based on a comparison of self to others and it tethered to our successes and failures—rising and falling with our latest accomplishments, acquisitions, mistakes or failures.
On the other hand, self-compassion is not dependent on differentiating and separating ourselves from others, but on seeing our interdependence, our common humanity, fragility and imperfections.
Understanding that our progress in life is built on both success and failure, self-compassion provides soft place to land each time we fall—as we inevitably do. It also puts our failures and faux pas in perspective—we are all imperfect and bound to make mistakes or encounter misfortune. In a framework of self-compassion, it is easier to be kind to ourselves.
In fact, according to Kristin Neff, a researcher in the Field,” Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behaviour, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger”.
Mindfulness, the third element of self-compassion, can be an antidote for harsh self-criticism. It helps us cultivate acceptance by becoming a neutral observer of negative thoughts and emotions. Practising mindfulness can help us disengage from an emotional response to an event, de-escalate our self-criticism and painful emotions and allow us to navigate challenges with equanimity and perspective.
Self-compassion isn’t subject to the winds of fortune or misfortune. It encompasses and allows both, providing ballast with which we can experience the ups and downs of life. By allowing our imperfections while acknowledging we are worthy and lovable, self-compassion nurtures human possibility.
Offering an act of kindness in the face of suffering is a powerful and sometimes daunting practise. Our first instinct may be to turn away, to avoid the pain, to react in a way that we think protects and distances ourselves. Yet to witness our own or other’s pain and reach out in kindness is not only an act of compassion, it expresses our profound connection to each other.
Pain and suffering can trigger fear, anger, hopelessness and despair, leaving us feeling alone and isolated, or it can bring us together, like our collective response to the Southeast Asian tsunami, and the Earthquakes in Haiti, and Chile, Earth in Fukushima, and many subsequent natural disasters since then.
In our culture, it is easy to think we can avoid suffering by succumbing to the distractions or indulgences of everyday life, diverting attention from harsher realities. More seductive still, we can get lost in a cloud of thought that plunges us deeper into isolation and our separation from others.
In fact, our ego or sense of self—the thoughts that differentiate us from others—while a natural part of being human, can contribute to our feeling separate, vulnerable, fearful and polarized.
Protecting that sense of self can cause us to view the world in terms of us and them and override our empathic tendency. We only need glimpse the latest news to see examples. At the extreme, focusing too much on ourselves breeds anxiety and depression, while connecting with others can actually boost our health and well-being.
Distracting ourselves with work, TV or alcohol for example, is a natural, protective reaction, but pain and suffering remain. By witnessing and accepting the world as it is, we are able to respond with honesty, clarity and purpose, and compassion. For most of us, this takes ongoing effort and practice, but being fully present during our moments of despair provides a profound opportunity to communicate immediately and directly from the heart-as it breaks open and connects us with another.
Thanks to Ines at: http://inesradman.wordpress.com