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1. Ready

What is self-compassion?

To understand self-compassion, it’s useful to first consider compassion.
Compassion Goetz, J., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: an evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351–374.
is defined as a sensitivity to another person’s pain, coupled with a desire to alleviate that pain. Based on the Latin word compati, compassion literally means “to suffer with”. Being compassionate
starts with Neff, K., & Dahm, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer.
acknowledging another person’s pain, and often requires you to pause, step away from your usual frame of reference, and consider a different perspective. For example, instead of walking past a homeless man and simply nodding an acknowledgement, compassion involves stopping to consider how hard his life must be and feeling motivated to help in some way.

Self-compassion Neff, K., & Dahm, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer.
is simply compassion directed inward. Kristen Neff, a psychologist and researcher at the forefront of self-compassion, has identified
three critical components of self-compassion: Neff, K. (2003b). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85–101.


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Self-kindness Neff, K. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
Being warm and understanding towards yourself when you suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring your pain or flagellating yourself with self-criticism. Western culture greatly emphasizes being kind to others but, when it comes to yourself, it (somehow) becomes acceptable to be harsh, cruel, and unkind. It’s not uncommon for people to tell themselves, “I’m such an idiot”, “I’m a loser”, or “I should be ashamed of myself”. In fact, when asked directly about their degree of kindness to others compared to themselves, most people say that they have greater kindness for others. Self-kindness means that, instead of punishing yourself for not being good enough or ridiculing yourself for being weak in the face of challenging life circumstances, you acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can, and you nurture yourself.
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Common humanity Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. William Morrow.
Recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that everyone goes through rather than something that happens to “me” alone. Amidst suffering and fear, you might feel isolated from other people and think that you are different because of your pain. However, this tunnel vision and the subsequent feeling of isolation, only makes your suffering worse. Remembering that suffering and failure is a shared human experience helps you broaden your perspective and builds connection. Common humanity is what differentiates self-compassion from self-pity.
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Mindfulness Neff, K., & Dahm, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer.
Taking a balanced approach to your negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. In many cases, it’s easy to get so caught up in problem-solving and finding a way out of the suffering that you don’t stop to consider how painful the moment is. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to simultaneously ignore your pain and feel compassion for yourself. You have to be willing to turn towards painful thoughts and emotions to embrace yourself with compassion. Mindfulness helps you turn towards pain and negative experiences without letting yourself be defined by them (or over-identifying with them). Mindfulness involves nonjudgmentally observing and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, which helps you create cognitive distance between yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Recognizing that thoughts are feelings are just that – thoughts and feelings – also helps you step away from a narrative of worthlessness and inadequacy.

Why is it important to have self-compassion?

With research literature on self-compassion steadily increasing, scientists are becoming more and more convinced of the long-term benefits of self-compassion (above and beyond other constructs like self-esteem). One of the most consistent findings is the relationship between self-compassion and emotional wellbeing. Recall that self-kindness, the first critical component of self-compassion, is directly related to an absence of self-criticism - a process that
underpins many emotional and psychiatric disorders, Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2009). Shame, self-criticism, and self-compassion in adolescence. Adolescent emotional development and the emergence of depressive disorders, 1, 195-214.
such as depression and anxiety. It’s worth noting that self-compassion has also been
proven to serve as a protective factor Neff, K. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
against depression and anxiety, after controlling for self-criticism.
In general, Neff, K. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
self-compassionate people have a higher sense of true self-worth and they approach their thoughts and feelings with greater openness and clarity. Moreover, highly self-compassionate people are known to spend
less time ruminating. Neff, K. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.
This is important because rumination – a pattern of recursive thinking focused on one’s negative mood –
“exacerbates depression, enhances negative thinking, impairs problem-solving, interferes with instrumental behaviour, and erodes social support”. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424.


Physiologically,
researchers argue Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self‐criticism: overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 13(6), 353–379.
that self-compassion deactivates the threat system and creates a sense of safety and security via activation of the self-soothing system. In adolescents,
physiological data Bluth, K., Roberson, P., Gaylord, S., Faurot, K., Grewen, K., Arzon, S., & Girdler, S. (2016). Does Self-Compassion Protect Adolescents from Stress? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(4), 1098–1109.
has also provided evidence that self-compassion protects against the negative impacts of stress: Overall, self-compassionate adolescents have lower cortisol levels (the main stress hormone), lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as higher emotional wellbeing.

Given all these benefits of self-compassion, why do so many people continue to criticize themselves? One of the most common reasons why people criticize themselves is because they believe that self-criticism is necessary for improvement. In other words, many people think that they can motivate themselves to achieve their goals by being self-critical. However, self-criticism leads to avoidance-based behaviours, where you are motivated to succeed to avoid the judgement and despair that accompanies failure. Unfortunately, this fear of failure often gets in the way of trying new things or stepping out of your comfort zone. Alternatively, self-compassion
results in approach-oriented behaviour, Neff, K., & Dahm, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer.
where you are motivated to succeed because you care about being your best self. This approach-oriented behaviour is associated with greater happiness, health and success.

Interestingly, the benefits of self-compassion also extend beyond the self to impact relationships.
A 2008 study Crocker, J., & Canevello, A. (2008). Creating and undermining social support in communal relationships: the role of compassionate and self-image goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 555–575.
found that self-compassionate students provided more social support and reported higher levels of interpersonal trust than students with low self-compassion.

Where can I learn more?

Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion – What is Self-Compassion?

Greater Good Magazine – Self-Compassion for Educators, Part 1 by Kristen Neff (1.5 hour lecture)

TEDx Talk – The Space between self-esteem and self-compassion

Greater Good Magazine – The Five Myths of Self-Compassion

Mindful – The Transformative Effects of Mindful Self-Compassion

BOOK – Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Distinguish between compassionate and non-compassionate behaviour
  • Identify the three components of self-compassion
  • Clearly explain the function and importance of each component of self-compassion
  • Anticipate future challenges and create a plan for how to practice self-compassion in those circumstances
References
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Bluth, K., Roberson, P., Gaylord, S., Faurot, K., Grewen, K., Arzon, S., & Girdler, S. (2016). Does Self-Compassion Protect Adolescents from Stress? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(4), 1098–1109.

Crocker, J., & Canevello, A. (2008). Creating and undermining social support in communal relationships: the role of compassionate and self-image goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 555–575.

Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2009). Shame, self-criticism, and self-compassion in adolescence. Adolescent emotional development and the emergence of depressive disorders, 1, 195-214.

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self‐criticism: overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 13(6), 353–379.

Goetz, J., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: an evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351–374.

Neff, K. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223–250.

Neff, K. (2003b). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85–101.

Neff, K., & Dahm, K. (2015). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In M. Robinson, B. Meier & B. Ostafin (Eds.), Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. William Morrow.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424.

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