I always find it interesting how when we are really struggling with something, there is often an answer that appears on your path. Similar to how when you find poisonous plants in nature, there is usually the antidote not too far away. Thursdays are the days I set aside for my doctorate and all morning I could not get myself to sit down and start my homework. I did everything to avoid it, including organizing my deck, vacuuming my house, to taking a nap before I even ate lunch! With this behavior, came a lot of negative thoughts toward myself, feeling like a failure, like I should quit and that I have too much on my plate that I am not capable of accomplishing. Have you ever had days or sometimes weeks like this? It can be hard to not buy into these thoughts, but buying into them only makes them come true. When I finally sat myself down (well after lunch I might add and shopping on Amazon) my first assignment of the day was to find a research article and write a review. Not knowing what to search, I started out with the word "resilient" to add to my research for my humanitarian foundation for sexual abuse called B.R.A.V.E. (more details to come later about that)! I stumbled across an article reciting how self-compassion creates a more resilient person. As I read this journal article, it lays out the three things that define self-compassion and it was like I had stumbled upon the anti-dote from the poisonous plant of negative self-chatter that I had rolled around in all morning long. Immediately I had to share the contents of this journal article and my experience of how there is always an anti-dote if we just keep going.
Compassion is a thoughtful concern with another's situation and a desire to alleviate their pain. Self-compassion is different from self-esteem and is foundational to developing one's self-esteem. Self-compassion means having thoughts of kindness and understanding toward yourself in the same way you would toward a friend, in lieu of holding yourself to a higher, more rigid standard. Psychologist Kristin D. Neff is a pioneer in bringing to scientific light the research on self-compassion. Though this is not a new concept, originating in the roots of Buddhism practices, she discovered the effectiveness of this technique when going through a divorce and experiencing high emotions of shame and self-loathing, which then led her to study self-compassion as a scientific concept.
Self-Compassion Does Not Undermine Motivation
There is a false perception that self-compassion will develop an ego-centric or self-indulgent personality. That somehow if we are compassionate towards ourselves or our circumstances, we will become complacent and lazy instead of motivated and driven. I will admit, I resonated with this point of view because I too was raised in a society where the belief is to be "hard on ourselves" and we will get more done and be more successful. What I love about this article is it brings to light the complete opposite effect that having self-compassion does on your personality and drive. Being kind to yourself actually encourages motivation. When self-compassion is practiced, research has found that it increases one's ability to show kindness and love toward others because we harvest that energy within us making it readily available to practice within the world.
Research also has found that self-compassionate individuals are more emotionally stable, less prone to anxiety and depression, have lower levels of stress, are more psychologically resilient and are more motivated to improve themselves rather than being unmotivated. There was also a correlation in the research with self-compassion and physical health.
You Are Not A Freak of Nature
A Duke psychologist, Mark Leary, stated that "if you are low in self-compassion, you're using too much emotional energy thinking about the bad feelings, and not enough energy addressing the real issue". Self-compassion is comprised of three main elements: 1. kindness toward oneself during difficult times, 2. being aware of your thoughts during times of suffering and 3. realizing your suffering is part of the normal human experience, and not unique to you. So basically realizing you are not a freak of nature and that everyone else experiences the same type of emotional turmoil at some time or another in their lives.
Those that exercise self-compassion, find it easier to balance the needs of themselves and others and avoid a high level of overwhelm and burnout. A few areas studied that self-compassion can be the most useful and make the difference between survival and burnout was that of parents of autistic children, PTSD veterans, and people suffering from binge eating disorder.
Parenting an autistic child is one of the more emotionally challenging tasks than any other form of parenting. The levels of stress and hopelessness are higher among these parents and a recent research study from 2015 found that of 51 parents of autistic children, self-compassion was a predicting factor of the parents well-being.
Another study done with 115 combat veterans from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, found that veterans self-compassion was a predicting characteristic in experiencing less severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to those veterans with lower levels of self-compassion with the same level of combat exposure.
Similarly self-compassion was found to be a successful factor in the recovery process in binge eating disorder. I can imagine it can help in many other forms of recovery whether that be an addiction or sexual abuse, it is a extremely valuable tool to add in our tool belts of life.
"It is not what you face in life, it is how you relate to yourself when you Face it"
Compassion-focused therapy (CFT), was developed for treating individuals who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect by Paul Gilbert, a professor of clinical psychology, as he found that when patients began exercising self-compassion with these backgrounds, it stimulated fragile attachment issues and triggered memories of trauma. In response to more delicate situations, where self-compassion is highly needed but severely neglected because of their response of shame and using self-criticism to protect themselves from their threatening environment, CFT starts with psycho-education. Gradually exposing and teaching the concept of self-compassion and implementing exercises of self-compassion, creates a safe environment to discover that the abuse was not their fault and they can begin to let go of shame, guilt, and self-criticism.
5 key exercises of self-compassion:
1 - Thinking and verbalizing kind words to yourself when feeling emotional turmoil. Even if you don't feel it, just say it to create that energy in your body. 2 - Realizing your turmoil is part of the normal human experience and you are not doing something "wrong" or alone in your experience. 3 - Exercise patience towards aspects of your personality that you don't like. 4 - Remember that self-criticism does not help you reach your goal, it actually holds you back. 5 - Write a letter to yourself as if you were writing it to a friend, expressing all the amazing accomplishments and aspect of yourself that are valuable to who you are today. It was a very interesting experience that holds more value to me now than it would've if I hadn't of been beating myself up directly before reading and writing this assignment. The other day, a little realization of inspiration came to me as I was working on a project... simple as it may be, it was one of those moments you just "get it". It was that we are absolutely on the journey of becoming a masterpiece and just as a puzzle or a painting, you can't create it if you don't develop it step by step. Your life is a masterpiece, and even the negative moments add value to your life just as the negative moments I had before writing this paper ended up adding more value to me in understanding and receiving this concept of self-compassion from this journal article. The depth of our emotions, both positive and negative are so valuable, appreciate that experience and love yourself in the process and you will become your own masterpiece, beautiful and priceless. Research Article Reference: KRAKOVSKY, M. (2017). THE SELF-COMPASSION SOLUTION. Scientific American Mind, 28(3), 64-69