Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem

Have you tried to pump up your self-esteem? Kristen Neff explains why it doesn’t work in the long run:

In this incredibly competitive society of ours, how many of us truly feel good about ourselves?

I remember once, as a freshman in college, after spending hours getting ready for a big party, I complained to my boyfriend that my hair, makeup, and outfit were woefully inadequate. He tried to reassure me by saying, “Don’t worry, you look fine.”

“Fine? Oh great, I always wanted to look fine . . .” Continue reading

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The Chemicals of Care: How Self-Compassion Manifests in Our Bodies

Neff, Kristin_400Kristin Neff writes:

In my work I have defined self-compassion as having three main interacting components: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a cold “stiff-upper-lip” approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects one’s own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that one can take greater perspective towards one’s personal shortcomings and difficulties. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.

For the past decade or so I’ve been conducting research on self-compassion and have found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious and stressed and are much more likely to be happy, resilient and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.

The power of self-compassion is not just an idea; it’s very real and actually manifests in our bodies. When we soothe our own pain, we are tapping into the mammalian care-giving system. And one important way the care-giving system works is by triggering the release of oxytocin. Research indicates that increased levels of oxytocin strongly increase feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity and connectedness and facilitates the ability to feel warmth and compassion for ourselves. Oxytocin is released in a variety of social situations, including when a mother breastfeeds her child, when parents interact with their young children or when someone gives or receives a soft, tender caress. Because thoughts and emotions have the same effect on our bodies whether they’re directed to ourselves or to others, this research suggests that self-compassion may be a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin.

Self-criticism appears to have a very different effect on our body. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain and is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. When we experience a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered: the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline and the hormone cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid a threat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks — by ourselves or others. Recent research indicates that generating feelings of self-compassion actually decreases our cortisol levels. In one study conducted by Helen Rockliff and her colleagues, researchers asked participants to imagine receiving compassion and feeling it in their bodies. Every minute they were told things like, “Allow yourself to feel that you are the recipient of great compassion; allow yourself to feel the loving-kindness that is there for you.” It was found that the participants given these instructions had lower cortisol levels after the imagery than those in the control group. Participants also demonstrated increased heart rate variability afterwards. The safer people feel, the more open and flexible they can be in response to their environment, and this is reflected in how much their heart rate varies in response to stimuli. So you could say that by giving themselves compassion, participants’ hearts actually opened and became less defensive.

When we soothe our painful feelings with the healing balm of self-compassion, not only are we changing our mental and emotional experience, we’re also changing our body chemistry. An effective aspect of self-compassion practice, therefore, is to tap into our body’s self-healing system through physical sensations.

This means that an easy way to calm and comfort yourself when you’re feeling bad is through soothing touch. It seems a bit silly at first, but your body doesn’t know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being held in its mother’s arms. Remember, physical touch releases oxytocin, reduces cortisol and calms cardiovascular stress. So why not try it? If you notice that you’re feeling tense, upset or self-critical, try giving yourself a warm hug, or tenderly stroking your arm or face, or gently rocking your body. What’s important is that you make a clear gesture that conveys feelings of love, care and tenderness. If other people are around, you can often fold your arms in a non-obvious way, gently squeezing yourself in a comforting manner. Notice how your body feels after receiving the hug or caress. Does it feel warmer, softer, calmer? It’s amazing how easy it is to tap into mammalian care-giving system and change your biochemical experience.

via Kristin Neff: The Chemicals of Care: How Self-Compassion Manifests in Our Bodies.

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Why We Need to Have Compassion for Our Inner Critic

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Kristin Neff writes:

We know how much it hurts. “I’m an idiot!” “I’m disgusting.” “No one will ever love me.” “What a lame-ass.”

So why do we do it? As soon as we ask ourselves this question, we often just pile on more self-criticism. “I’m such a bitch, even to myself.” “That’s why I’m such a loser, I’m always putting myself down.”

Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that somehow it will help you stop beating yourself up. Instead, take a step back, and give your inner critic some slack. In its ineffective, counterproductive way, your inner critic is actually trying to keep you safe.

As humans we have two main evolved safety systems. The oldest and most quickly triggered is the threat defense system, which involves the amygdala. When we sense danger, our response is typically fight, flight, freeze, or submit: We turn and fight the threat, run like hell away from the threat, play dead in hopes the threat will pass, or show our bellies and hope the threat will be placated. These strategies are very successful for animals living in the wild, helping them to survive and pass on their genes. For humans, however, these responses often just make things worse. That’s because the threat we’re usually facing is a threat to our self-concept. We confuse our thoughts and representations of ourselves for our actual selves, meaning that when our self-image is under siege, we react as if our very existence is threatened. Continue reading

Crazy Train

Todd Lohenry:

Funny. A year ago this time I thought I was doing well to know that I could get off the Crazy Train. Now, thanks to the works of Brene Brown, Tara Brach and Kristin Neff I am realizing I don’t have to react to every opportunity to get on the train; I can respond to those opportunities by sitting at the station and watching the Crazy Train go by. It may seem silly to you, but it’s a big revelation for me…


Originally posted on Bright, shiny objects!:

I’m not much of an Ozzy Osbourne fan but I heard the words to this song for the first time today and I actually thought it was quite good…

Crazy,but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate
Mental wounds not healing
Drivin’ me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’ve listened to preachers
I’ve listened to fools
I’ve watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role
Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I know that things are going wrong for me
You gotta listen to my words
Heirs of a cold war
That’s what we’ve become
Inheriting troubles I’m mentally…

View original 70 more words

The best of wholeheartedness for the week ending 3/9/2013

  1. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” -Mark Twain, legendary author.
  2. “When all your desires are distilled; You will cast just two votes: To love more, And be happy.”   - Hafiz
  3. “Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” -Stephen R. Covey, best-selling author and speaker.
  4. “Any time I am in resentment, I am not taking care of myself. I am blaming someone else for something I need to do.” “The higher the expectations, the lower the serenity. I try to keep my boundaries high, my expectations low, and my heart open.” -Anon
  5. “When you take charge of your life, there is no longer a need to ask permission of other people or society at large. When you ask permission, you give someone veto power over your life.” - Geoffrey F. Abert
  6. Todd's tweets...
  7. Just added a great image in "Storypad" undefined
  8. ““When all your desires are distilled; You will cast just two votes: To love more, And be happy.”   - Hafiz” undefined
  9. ““All the ups and downs are grace in different wrappings, sent to refine consciousness. Say thanks to them all.”  ...” undefined
  10. ““Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition –...” undefined
  11. ““The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex...” undefined
  12. @toddlohenry Thx for all the great tweets this a.m. Clipping them all with Evernote to read later!
  13. @SocialBro Hey guys! I have a @bufferapp customer here, @toddlohenry, and we have some questions. Is there an email addy we can contact? :)
  14. @jenpastiloff Something tells me I would have heard from you if I curated your content incorrectly. :-D
  15. @livegrey Love your site and what you're doing and I'd like to do everything I can to promote your thinking...
  16. @toddlohenry Hi there Todd. Thanks for sharing our philosophy on your blog!
  17. @farhanadhalla Thanks for writing such good stuff. Hope all's well...
  18. @barbmarkway Thanks for calling my attention to the event in the first place; Kristen Neff was AWESOME!!! I won't take notes now... :-D
  19. Remember in Step Nine we were told to make direct amends wherever possible, but this generous principle should extend further. We...
  20. @toddlohenry I think it's 100% diff. Reblog the heck out of me or quote me but give credit where credit is due. Respect, right? Thoughts?
  21. @toddlohenry reblogging credits the orig person. Knowingly Taking someone's ideas and calling them your own lacks ethics
  22. “Smile, It Will Make You Look Better” undefined
  23. Just added a great image in "Storypad" undefined
  24. “The Key To Healing It Is Feeling It...” undefined
  25. @JenPastiloff How does copycatting differ from 'reblogging' or curating content according to fair use guidelines in your mind? Or does it?
  26. RT @steven_oriordan: Be mindful of your self-talk, it is a conversation with the Universe! #Universe #Selftalk #Quote
  27. Everyone is doing their best from their current state of consciousness...
  28. Your Best Secrets For A Good Night's Sleep [feedly]…