Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges

NYTimes: Health — Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?

That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, has found that people who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.  People tend toward being self-critical, rather than self compassionate because this is a very common message in our society, and peopleare afraid they’ll become self-indulgent, according to Dr Neff. But self-compassion turns out to be motivating. Why is this so?

Dr. Neff offers this analogy, imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.

In her forthcoming book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” is being published next month by William Morrow, Dr. Neff has developed a self-compassion scale: 26 statements meant to determine how often people are kind to themselves, and whether they recognize that ups and downs are simply part of life.

Dr. Neff offers a series of exercises to increase self compassion, such as reviewing your patterns of reacting to yourself and things that happen to you, some specific writing exercises, and a technique borrowed from Gestalt Therapy.

The companion website to the book, at http://www.self-compassion.org/ is an excellent resource for exploring futher, this inspiring and awakening field of self-compassion.

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