Credit: Justin Jin.
Self-Compassion: The Most Important Life Skill?
A charming animated baby, Kristin Neff’s son Rowan retreated intoِ himselfِ asِ a toddler, losing hisِ fewِ words andِ becoming prone toِ inexplicable screaming fits.
There areِ numerous ways Neff couldِ have reacted toِ Rowan’s 2004 diagnosis ofِ autism.
But Neff, anِ associate professor atِ the University ofِ Texas atِ Austin, wasِ inِ the midst ofِ pioneering psychological research onِ self-compassion.
It’s also a skill many people lack.
Self-compassion isِ often misunderstood asِ being soft andِ indulgent; andِ the phrase alone wouldِ probablyِ turn theِ stomach ofِ Amy Chua, whoseِ book Battle Hymn ofِ the Tiger Mother (Penguin, 2011) re-stoked theِ debate aboutِ how strict orِ lenient weِ shouldِ beِ with ourِ kids andِ with ourselves.
But psychological research says neither side of this debate wins.
According toِ Chua, imparting self-esteem inِ children shouldِ stem fromِ accomplishments, justifying theِ use ofِ authoritarian tactics toِ force kids intoِ achieving andِ thereby build theirِ self-esteem.
But theِ harsh punishments andِ criticisms thisِ requires — Chua threatened toِ deny oneِ daughter lunch andِ dinner forِ years ifِ she didِ not perfect a piano piece called The Little White Donkey andِ called herِ other daughter garbage — haveِ beenِ associatedِ with anxiety andِ depression laterِ inِ life.
This leads parents toِ indulgently praise everythingِ little Emma doesِ andِ protect herِ fromِ frustrations thatِ mayِ damage herِ self-esteem.
What is self-compassion?
It isِ not thisِ nimby, bimby stuff, saidِ Paul Gilbert, a researcher atِ Kingsway Hospital inِ the United Kingdom.
Self-compassion, asِ defined byِ Neff inِ the academic literature, hasِ three aspects: mindfulness, common humanity andِ kindness.
Mindfulness isِ holding yourِ ownِ thoughts andِ feelings ratherِ than suppressing orِ beingِ carried awayِ by them.
The problem with high self-esteem
While Neff, Gilbert andِ other compassion researchers find fault withِ Chua’s hypercritical approach toِ parenting, theyِ find common ground whenِ itِ comesِ to herِ critique ofِ the West’s tendency toِ hand outِ empty compliments, give everyoneِ a trophy andِ thus artificially inflate self-esteem.
Decades ofِ research, particularlyِ inِ the 1970s andِ ’80s, suggested havingِ high self-esteem isِ the cornerstone ofِ happy, successful lives.
And whenِ statistically lookingِ atِ self-compassion alone, theِ negative aspects ofِ high self-esteem, suchِ asِ narcissism, disappear.
Will self-compassion make me lazy?
Due toِ ourِ ever-increasing competitive societies, researchers speculate theِ tendency toِ choose self-punishment, ratherِ than self-compassion, isِ on theِ rise.
People oftenِ believeِ that punishing themselvesِ will keepِ them inِ line andِ ultimately keepِ them safe.
People high inِ self-compassion tend toِ haveِ higher standards, work harder andِ take moreِ personal responsibility forِ their actions, Leary said.