Kristin Neff PhD, from the University of Texas in Austin, is a well known researcher in the study of self-compassion. According to Neff, developing the habit of self-compassion involves taking more personal responsibility for your health and well-being. So what is self-compassion and what are the obstacles for people embracing this perspective and practice?
Self-compassion is treating yourself like someone you care about with support, encouragement, and concern. Self-compassion involves concern (opening your heart) and the motivation (prioritizing) to do something about your negative emotional experiences and your physical well-being. Statistics show that 75% of people feel more compassion for others, than for themselves. What are the obstacles? Many people believe it is weak to ask for help. The research shows that the opposite is true. “Self-compassion is the biggest indicator of strength and resilience.”
David Svarra, a Researcher at the University of Arizona, studied couples going through a difficult divorce and found people who were kinder to themselves did much better over the long haul, compared to those filled with judgement and shame. Those folks who adopted healthy lifestyle changes and reached out for emotional support were able to navigate through this painful transition and move forward in their lives. Svarra found that biology and psychosocial well-being are related. Another obstacle for people is the belief that self-compassion is selfish, self-indulgent, or even a form of self-pity.
Consider Susan, a 38-year-old realtor with three kids and a loving husband. She is a deeply kind person, devoted wife, involved parent, supportive friend, and hard-worker. She finds time to volunteer for two local charities and makes time for all school events and her children’s other activities. In short, she appears to be an ideal role model.
However, Susan experiences high levels of stress. She’s tired all the time, depressed, unable to sleep. She experiences chronic low-level digestive problems and sometimes she yells at her husband and kids. Through all this, she’s incredibly hard on herself, always feeling that whatever she’s done isn’t good enough. Yet she’d never considered trying to be compassionate to herself. She is quick to take her children to a Doctor or a Therapist the moment there is any sign of trouble, but believes it is selfish and irresponsible to care for her own emotional and physical well-being. If Susan were to prioritize self-care in her life, she would benefit physically and emotionally. As the airlines tell us- “Parents put your air mask on before assisting your children”. Women are largely socialized to be caregivers who selflessly open their hearts to their husbands, children, friends, and elderly parents but aren’t encouraged to care for themselves.
Men are often socialized to be problem solvers and disregard physical and emotional pain. Usually, they try to figure things out themselves. It is not that they aren’t struggling, it is that they often don’t ask for help! Research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with reduced stress and enhanced wellbeing and a wide range of other positive factors such as improved relationships and better physical health. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits like diet and exercise are important. By getting help to decrease anxiety, depression and sleep issues, we can enhance emotional resilience and enjoy better relationships.
We can have it all!