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Lions Roar : November 2015
NE HEARS A LOT about self-compassion these days—even Reader’s Digest calls it a trending health term. People are starting to realize that instead of relentlessly criticizing ourselves, it’s better to treat ourselves with kindness, care, and support. In the Buddhist tradition, it is assumed that all people are worthy of compassion, and it would seem strange to offer com- passion to others but not to oneself. In our Western achievement-oriented society, however, in which perfectionistic striv- ing is glorified, self-criticism tends to be valued more highly than self-compassion. Luckily, this is beginning to change, in part due to the fast-growing body of research demonstrating that self-com- passion is key to living a happy, healthy life. It turns out that self-compassionate people are much less likely to be anxious, depressed, and stressed on a day-to-day basis than those who are self-critical. They’re also more optimistic and satisfied with their lives, and better able to cope effectively with adversity. This isn’t because self-compassionate people are better at tuning out the tough stuff, or that they engage in purely posi- tive thinking. In fact, self-compassion means being more will- ing to experience difficult feelings and to acknowledge them as valid and important. The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of trying to get rid of “bad” feelings and replacing them with “good” ones, positive emotions are generated by embrac- ing our suffering with tenderness and care, so that light and dark are experienced simultaneously. I first learned about self-compassion during my last year of graduate school at the University of California at Berke- ley. It was a very fragile point in my life. I was wallowing in the aftermath of a messy divorce and worried about being able to finish my PhD—and whether I would be able to get a job if I did finish. I decided to learn how to meditate at a local Buddhist sangha, hoping it would lessen my stress. To my sur- prise, the very first night I went the woman leading the group talked at length about the need for us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I tried being gentler and more supportive toward myself, and almost immediately started to feel less overwhelmed. KRISTIN NEFF is associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer researcher in the field of self-compassion and teaches workshops worldwide. She is the author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Why It Makes Us Happier, More Resilient, and Kinder to Others PHOTOBYLEACSONTOS/STOCKSYUNITED SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 59