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Live Right, Live Well

Why You Need More Self-compassion

Experts explain how being too hard on yourself can harm your health, and advise how to give yourself...

It happens to the best of us: You beat yourself up for losing your patience with the kids or for having that extra scoop of ice cream after dinner. But according to new research in the growing field of self-compassion, people who are too hard on themselves are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and pessimism. They also tend to feel more isolated and have poor coping skills.

Individuals who are less critical of themselves, on the other hand, typically have a higher sense of competence and self-worth and lead happier, healthier lives. What’s more, intriguing research suggests that being compassionate toward yourself is key when it comes to reaching goals, like losing weight or quitting smoking.

“People think that self-criticism will motivate them, but in fact it creates an increased fear of failure that inhibits motivation,” says self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, who holds a doctorate in educational psychology and is an associate professor in the educational psychology department at The University of Texas at Austin.

What Is Self-compassion?
Researchers define self-compassion as treating yourself as you would a close friend. But that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to do whatever you want. “Self-compassion is not self-indulgence,” says Neff. You shouldn’t abandon self-control or lower your standards in any given situation. “It’s important to see clearly what happened -- without ignoring or exaggerating it -- and then respond with kindness and support,” says Neff.

Of course, treating yourself with self-compassion is easier said than done. To help get you started, Neff recommends the following:

  • Remember that everyone has ups and downs. If you polish off a bag of chips in one sitting, don’t berate yourself and think any normal person would have stopped after a handful or two. Instead, “reframe the situation and remind yourself that everyone has bad things happen to them sometimes,” says Neff. When you do that, you “turn it into an opportunity to feel more -- not less -- emotionally connected to others,” which in turn will help you do better next time, she says.

  • Give yourself a reassuring “hug.” Physical contact increases your body’s production of the hormone oxytocin, which has a soothing effect. So the next time you’re in need of comfort or support, seek a hug from a loved one or just gently pat your own hand or forearm. Affectionate gestures like this are an easy way to treat yourself with self-compassion.

  • Write yourself a supportive note. Ask yourself, “What would my best friend say to me right now?” Then write it down and read it back to yourself.

“Most of us are pretty skilled at giving compassion to others, yet pretty lousy at giving compassion to ourselves,” says Neff. But if you treat yourself with the same kindness you offer loved ones, you’ll find that self-compassion can help you reach your goals and lead to a happier, healthier life.




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