Rabi Akiva said, “Love your neighbor like yourself.” New research suggests that it might be helpful to flip those words to, “Love yourself like your neighbor.” In other words, treat yourself the way you attempt to treat other people – with compassion and kindness.
In her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, researcher Kristin Neff writes about the ways in which our lives would improve if we treated ourselves with self-compassion. She explains, “In this incredibly competitive society of ours, how many of us truly feel good about ourselves? It seems such a fleeting thing – feeling good – especially as we need to feel special and above average to feel worthy. Anything less seems like a failure…”
That desire to feel special makes sense. The issue is that not everybody can be special at the same time. In order to see ourselves positively, we inflate our egos and look down on others. And, in our society, we also beat ourselves up when we don’t feel special. This whole system tends to backfire and we have a whole society of people who look down on others and on themselves.
Neff continues, “We look in the mirror and don’t like what we see (both literally and figuratively), and the shame starts to set in. Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we admit some flaw or shortcoming. ‘I’m not good enough. I’m worthless.’ It’s not surprising that we hide the truth from ourselves when honesty is met with such harsh condemnation.”
Instead, Neff suggests that we learn to practice self-compassion. Rather than feeling that we are at fault and therefore undeserving of compassion, we need to reframe our thinking and understand that everyone is worthy of compassion, even from ourselves!
She explains that there are three components to self-compassion:
Self-kindness vs. self-judgment. Self-compassionate people understand that no one is perfect. When we fail or experience difficulties, instead of responding with anger and frustration, we can respond with understanding. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept the failure or the difficulty, but rather than adding to it by judging and self-flagellating, you can be kind to yourself and recognize that it is sometimes inevitable.
Common humanity vs. isolation. It’s easy to think that you are the only one in your situation – that you are the only one who has ever suffered in this specific way. Practicing self-compassion means that you understand that being “human” means that mistakes happen and that everyone is subject to them. When you take away the isolation and recognize that you are part of a larger group, you can be kinder to yourself and your suffering is less severe.
Mindfulness vs. over-identification. It’s hard to look at our own emotions objectively, but that is what self-compassion requires of us. We need to both put our emotions in perspective (understand our suffering in relation to what is going on around us) and also be non-judgmental and allow our emotions to be felt. Neff describes this element of self-compassion as mindfulness.
In a culture that promotes inflating your ego to make yourself feel better in comparison to those around you, while harshly judging your failures, self-compassion can feel unnatural. Below, I’ve compiled a few of Neff’s strategies that might help you live a more enjoyable life with both your successes and your failures.
Love yourself as you would your neighbor. Think about how you would treat a good friend in the same situation. Would you reject him or her? Likely you would not. Don’t you deserve the compassion you might give someone else?
Pay attention to your self-talk. It’s possible that you don’t even realize how negative you are when you speak to yourself. Pay attention. Maybe you are saying, “Ugh. That was so stupid” or “I’m such a klutz” or even “I always mess things up.” If you wouldn’t express those kinds of sentiments to someone you care about, don’t say them to yourself! Change the way you speak to yourself.
Learn new mantras. If you want to change the way you speak, learn new mantras to say that will allow you to be self-compassionate. Say things like, “This too shall pass” and
Change your body language. The voice in your head is important, but so is the way that you move in your own body. You can comfort yourself with a physical gesture. You can put your hand over your heart or hold your arm. These gestures make you feel comforted and cared for, and they soothe the fight or flight system that is kicked up when you encounter a challenge.
Practice mindfulness. As with all of the tips above, mindfulness forces you to pay attention to the way you speak, think, and move. But pay special attention to the way you speak, think, and move in relation to yourself! This way, you can treat yourself as you would someone you love.
We all deserve kindness. Why not start with being kind to yourself?
Register now for a anger management workshop by Dr. Ross Greene on November 14. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.