Kristin Neff

A new book: ‘The Mindful Nurse’

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Mary O’Connor, Hearts in Healthcare: Mention compassion and what words spring to mind? Thoughtfulness, decency, kindness, a caring nature and a willingness to help others.

We usually think of compassion in terms of other people and rarely apply it to ourselves. Yet self compassion is important for our emotional wellbeing and growth.

It involves demonstrating the same qualities of caring, kindness and understanding to ourselves when we are having a difficult time, not judging ourselves harshly for any perceived shortcomings or when we make mistakes, comforting and caring for ourselves and, most of all, valuing ourselves for the unique people we are.

Carmel Sheridan, a Galway based psychotherapist, mindfulness trainer and author of “The Mindful Nurse: Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to help you thrive in your work”, describes self compassion as the capacity for healthy nurturing of the self.

“Just as compassion is the willingness to acknowledge and be moved by the suffering of others, self-compassion extends this acceptance and care to you. After all, just like on an airplane, if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first then you won’t be able to help anyone else.”

She asks people to look inside themselves and see how much self-compassion they possess. If you are unsure, ask yourself a couple of telling questions. “Picture yourself tripping up at work, for instance,” she suggests. ”Let’s say you arrived late, failed to get everything done, or said the wrong thing. Do you attack yourself for every little imperfection? You might say to yourself, ‘How could I have been so stupid? or ’Why can’t I accomplish as much as others?’ Or maybe you continue to blame yourself even after you have been forgiven by others. Do you constantly berate yourself for not being perfect or for not having all the right answers all the time? These judgments cycle through your mind and stir up stress. In an attempt to halt the pain you berate yourself and stress increases. Although the thoughts and feelings are uncomfortable, you continue to condemn yourself long after the event, creating even more stress for yourself.”

Self-critical

When we fling insults at ourselves, our inner critic takes over, she says. This quickly ramps up our anxiety levels and activates the flight or fight response. ”Distracted and self-critical you think about what happened tossing it around in your mind and going over it again and again. Lost in reactivity you lose sight of the need to treat yourself kindly. Because you are both the attacker and the attacked, your body floods with the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, this flood causes mental and physical damage and impairs your health, your sleep, your ability to think clearly and your ability to function competently at work.”

Ms Sheridan says when things go wrong it is important to step outside the “pull of self-judgement” and practice self compassion instead.

“Rather than berating yourself when you slip up be gentle. Speak kindly to yourself and accept what has happened. This doesn’t mean that you let yourself off the hook. Instead, it is the opposite. When you are self-compassionate, you are more likely to own up to what happened. Turning towards your distress with compassion helps you to let go of defensiveness. Rather than judging yourself you can now acknowledge difficult feelings such as guilt and shame. This frees up energy so that you can look for helpful solutions to your dilemma and focus on how to avoid repeating what went wrong.”

She outlines that self- compassion helps you recognise and soothe your painful thoughts and emotions.

“When you identify and relate to your emotions with kindness rather than harshness, you tap into your biological caregiving system. Self-compassion is yours to tap into at any moment when you acknowledge that your nature is inherently good and that you deserve a generous dose of self-value and self-gratitude.”

She refers to Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who outlines that self-compassion consists of three things:

  • Self-kindness. Relating warmly and kindly to ourselves rather than being self-critical whenever we are faced with our own shortcomings or encounter difficulties.
  • Common humanity. Remembering that suffering and failure are part of our shared human experience rather than unique to us as individuals.
  • Mindfulness. Meeting our difficult feelings in a balanced way so we do not over identify with them.

Research indicates that practicing self-compassion improves wellbeing, life satisfaction, resilience, and a sense of connection with others, according to Carmel Sheridan.

The first step in becoming more self compassionate is to notice when you are being self critical or reactive.

“Your body reacts when you are self critical. When you catch yourself in the act of finding fault with yourself, shift your attention instead to your body. You might notice your shallow breathing, warm face or clenched stomach. Once you become aware of reactivity, you can set the intention to release it, letting go of the bodily tension and hostile thoughts and extending kindness to yourself instead.”

She offers the following suggestion from Dr. Neff to help people build self-compassion:

Steps to self compassion

Practice mindful self compassion when life is not going well. Maybe you are late for work or just had an argument with a colleague. Rather than reacting to the situation take a self compassion break. As a way of connecting with the difficult experience make a comforting physical gesture to yourself, for example, placing your hand over your heart. Sense yourself opening up to compassion and send kindness to the hurt inside. Kindness in the form of physical gestures can have a soothing effect on your body. It doesn’t matter what the gesture is as long as it resonates with you and you find it comforting.

Speak kindly to yourself. When you find yourself in the grip of strong feelings of distress or self-judgement you may find yourself thinking, ‘I am hopeless’ or other condemning comments. However, thinking like this only makes you feel worse. Instead, substitute kind phrases to help calm your distress. Choose phrases that resonate with you, such as those listed below and memorise them, repeating them silently whenever you need compassion.

  1. This is a moment of suffering (Here mindfulness helps you acknowledge what is happening).
  2. Suffering is part of life. (This helps you remember your common humanity, you are by no means alone in your suffering).
  3. May I be kind to myself in this moment. (This phrase reminds you to respond compassionately rather than berate yourself).

Original article no longer available.

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Kindness, good. Self kindness, better

I’m standing in the kitchen talking to one of my best friends. We’re both crying. And we don’t have much time.

The kids will be home soon. The visit will end. We’ll be back to communicating sporadically via time zone-challenged texts.

“I’m having this crisis of confidence,” she says. “At work. As a parent.”

“How come you can’t see yourself the way I see you?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Go and see someone. Tell them you need to change the tape in your head. Tell them …

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“The Compassionate Brain” free seven-part video series

For Sounds True, I’m hosting a free Seven-part video series with extraordinary guests – The Compassionate Brain – that will give you effective ways to change your brain and heart and life. So far over 25,000 people have signed up for this free series, and I hope you will join us – and help spread the word to others.

The series began October 8, 2012, and runs on seven consecutive Monday nights, 8-9 pm Eastern time, through November 19. You can go back and watch the archived videos from previous interviews.

Each week, I’m interviewing a world-class scholar/teacher (in order): Richie Davidson, Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Dachar Keltner, Kelly McGonigal, Kristin Neff, and Jean Houston – where they’ll discuss different ways to use the power of neuroplasticity – how the mind can change the brain to transform the mind – to open the heart, build courage, find compassion, forgive oneself and others, speak and act from both kindness and strength, and heal the world.

Here is a brief video in which I explain what this series is about:

You can watch live each Monday or see the archived videos anytime if you miss a session. These unique conversations with first-rate experts are freely offered – along with their practical tools for cooperation, empathy, and kindness. (The series is particularly timely in light of a U.S. Presidential election occurring right in the middle of it.)

Our world has needs at different levels (economic, environmental, cultural, etc.) but the common factor in all of these is the human brain, whose ancient fight-or-flight circuits are dragging humanity toward if not over the brink. If more people and more brains – and thus more hearts and hands – turned toward compassion, that could make a real difference.

So I would really appreciate your support for this series. You could sign up for it yourself at https://www.compassionatebrain.com/ and – please – spread the words and tell others about it. It’s interesting, solid, practical, convenient, and free. And, one brain at a time, it might help nudge things in a better direction.

Wishing you the best,

Rick


The Compassionate Brain Topics and Guests:

    • Session 1: How the Mind Changes the Brain
      Monday, October 8, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Richie Davidson, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin and co-editor of The Asymmetrical Brain
    • Session 2: Mindfulness of Oneself and Others
      Monday, October 15, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Daniel Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute and author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
    • Session 3: Cultivating a Forgiving Heart
      Monday, October 22, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha

 

  • Session 4: The Evolution of Compassion: From Gene to Meme
    Monday, October 29, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
    With Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
  • Session 5: Balancing Compassion and Assertiveness
    Monday, November 5, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Kelly McGonigal, senior teacher and consultant for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
  • Session 6: The Power of Self-Compassion
    Monday, November 12, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Kristin Neff, professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
  • Session 7: Compassion in the Wider World
    Monday, November 19, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Jean Houston, co-founder of The Foundation for Mind Research and author of The Possible Human: A Course in Enhancing Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities
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How ‘self-compassion’ trumps ‘self-esteem’

It was the 1970s and adults were looking for a way to raise confident, go-getter children, ones who would celebrate the person they were to become.

And so parents and teachers started showering them with praise, creating a pop movement of self-esteem that played up their worth. Up those youngsters grew, with grand aspirations of becoming celebrities, astronauts — anything they wanted to be.

And then out came the beating sticks.

Children of the self-esteem movement — their identities shaped by I Am Special songs and “Princess” t-shirts — have become entitled, confused and self-critical youth and adults, raised to believe they can do anything and frustrated, sometimes devastated, when they can’t, experts say. The phenomenon seems at odds with the very definition of self-esteem: feeling good about yourself.

Title: Self-Compassion
Author: Kristin Neff
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0061733512
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and Amazon.com Kindle.

Now, decades since the praise began, psychologists and researchers say they’ve found a way to ease the mental self-battery that has become prominent in North American culture.

A new wave of research on self-compassion — the ability to treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend or a loved one — has been creeping into the mainstream, aiming to rescue people from the depths of narcissism and unreasonable standards they will never meet.

Borrowing principles from Buddhism and mindfulness, the practice demands people be kinder to themselves instead of sizing themselves up against others and beating themselves down.

Kristin Neff, a professor of human development…

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and culture at the University of Texas, is considered a pioneer in self-compassion research. She published her first paper on the subject in 2003, and, since then, there have been more than 100 academic journal papers on self-compassion by a range of psychologists and neuroscientists.

Prof. Neff publishes her first book on the topic this month, entitled Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. In December, American psychotherapist Jean Fain released The Self-Compassion Diet, a book that applies the practice to weight loss.

But as a growing number of books advocating self-compassion roll off the presses, some academic observers are skeptical of the approach, questioning whether it will breed complacency and self-indulgence or if it’s just another self-help gimmick.

It certainly smells that way to Stewart Justman, author of the 2005 pop psychology critique Fool’s Gold. The director of the Liberal Studies program at the University of Montana said it smacks of some of the classic self-help strategies, applying the word “self” to many virtuous words such as compassion, loyalty and honesty.

“At some point, obviously, a price is paid for these redefinitions,” he said in an email interview. “I wonder if ‘self-compassion’ constitutes a remedy for the excesses of the self-esteem movement or is really more of the same.”

Narcissism expert W. Keith Campbell regarded the concept of self-compassion with suspicion when he encountered it a few years ago.

“It sounds like self-help hooey and it sounds wimpy,” said the co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, published in 2009. “I think sometimes people hear a word like self-compassion and they think ‘Oh, it’s just like making excuses.’”

Regardless, Prof. Campbell, who teaches social psychology at the University of Georgia, says the approach could have some remedying effects on a generation of narcissists.

“I’ve seen the data and it’s a way of being very resilient and strong in the face of negative feedback,” he explained. “It’s not just giving yourself a hug.”

Negative feedback is something people with unrealistically high expectations of themselves struggle to accept, adds Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

He co-authored a study, published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which found self-compassion to be more important than self-esteem in dealing with negative events. The benefits usually attributed to high self-esteem may even be due to self-compassion, the researchers say.

“This shows us it’s far more important to be kind to yourself than it is to have high self-esteem,” he says.

“High self-esteem is no good unless it’s accompanied by self-compassion.”

Studies have shown narcissism can have serious impacts on mental health, contributing to depression and suicide if the supply of adoration, adulation and attention depletes.

Low self-esteem, on the other hand, can lead to the many of the same things if taken to the extreme.

Self-compassion, its proponents say, can guard against these things, at least in part. Studies from the University of Texas at Austin have found those high in self-compassion have lower rates of depression and mental health problems.

Studies on senior citizens and HIV patients conducted at Duke University in North Carolina have found those with higher levels of self-compassion are far more likely to ask for help.

“Our research shows most people are much harder on themselves than they are on other people,” said Prof. Neff. “What we find is people who are low in self-compassion are really compassionate to others and hard on themselves.”

But Christian Jordan, a self-esteem researcher and professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says there is a danger people will mistake the “go easy on yourself” mantra of self-compassion for an excuse to be lazy.

“I think there’s a real risk, given the superficial similarities the self-esteem movement has taught people, of bringing them into that mentality when it could be interpreted as being ‘You should always value yourself no matter what and not take an objective view,’” he said.

It could also backfire if someone with too much self-esteem or off-the-charts levels of self-regard adopts the concept, offered Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., who co-authored the 2010 book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior.

“There’s always the law of unintended consequences, and there’s a long history in psychology of people getting very excited about various fads without thinking about what the consequences might be,” he said. “Plenty of people who do have low self-esteem, I’m all for raising their self-esteem, that’s good and fine. But some people don’t have that problem.”

The notion that it will lead to self-indulgence is something researchers like Dr. Neff have heard time and again.

“Whenever you talk about self-compassion now, it’s almost the first thing out of my mouth: ‘It’s not self-indulgence’,” she said. It actually demands a lot of tough love, she said, using the analogy of a mother’s reaction when her child comes home with a failing grade on schoolwork.

“If she criticizes him and says “You’re so stupid and will never amount to anything,” that’s not going to motivate him — he’s going to be depressed and take basketball instead,” she said.

“But does she say ‘That’s OK, little John, you got an F, we love you anyway’? That’s not healthy either.” A compassionate mother would tell her son an F is unacceptable, but will help him figure out a way to improve the situation and not dwell on the failure.

Sounds like common sense. Then why don’t people apply the same approach to themselves, many researchers have asked.

The head of the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Derby published a paper last year which found that fear of compassion towards oneself was tied directly with a person’s fear of receiving compassion from other people.

The next stage of research on Dr. Neff’s horizon is figuring out why people tend not to take compliments very well.

Self-criticism is a tricky habit to shake. It’s why Dr. Neff stresses that self-compassion is a practice, an exercise that doesn’t, and won’t, come easily to most people. But she hopes that one day, instead of children in pre-school singing “I am special” in a continuous loop, they will employ some aspects of self-compassion.

For Prof. Campbell, whose own young daughter still takes home school assignments that emphasize her specialness, the change in tack could not come too soon.

“My only hope is that if this work gets out, people will start questioning uniqueness and they’ll start questioning self-esteem and maybe take some of the forces that push for those things out of our schools,” he said.

“But in terms of everyone in the country turning toward self-compassion, that’s a harder sell.”

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Go easy on yourself, a new wave of research urges

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times: Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?

That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.

The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health. But Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.

Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.

“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Dr. Neff said. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

Dr. Neff, whose book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” is being published next month by William Morrow, has developed a self-compassion scale: 26 statements meant to determine how often people are kind to themselves, and whether they recognize that ups and downs are simply part of life.

A positive response to the statement “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies,” for example, suggests lack of self-compassion. “When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people” suggests the opposite.

For those low on the scale, Dr. Neff suggests a set of exercises — like writing yourself a letter of support, just as you might to a friend you are concerned about. Listing your best and worst traits, reminding yourself that nobody is perfect and thinking of steps you might take to help you feel better about yourself are also recommended.

Other exercises include meditation and “compassion breaks,” which involve repeating mantras like “I’m going to be kind to myself in this moment.”

If this all sounds a bit too warm and fuzzy, like the Al Franken character Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”), there is science to back it up. A 2007 study by researchers at Wake Forest University suggested that even a minor self-compassion intervention could influence eating habits. As part of the study, 84 female college students were asked to take part in what they thought was a food-tasting experiment. At the beginning of the study, the women were asked to eat doughnuts.

One group, however, was given a lesson in self-compassion with the food. “I hope you won’t be hard on yourself,” the instructor said. “Everyone in the study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel real bad about it.”

Later the women were asked to taste-test candies from large bowls. The researchers found that women who were regular dieters or had guilt feelings about forbidden foods ate less after hearing the instructor’s reassurance. Those not given that message ate more.

The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about the doughnuts ended up engaging in “emotional” eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat.

“Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,” said Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School who wrote the new book “The Self-Compassion Diet” (Sounds True publishing). “Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect.”

Dr. Neff says that the field is still new and that she is just starting a controlled study to determine whether teaching self-compassion actually leads to lower stress, depression and anxiety and more happiness and life satisfaction.

“The problem is that it’s hard to unlearn habits of a lifetime,” she said. “People have to actively and consciously develop the habit of self-compassion.”

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