‘There but for the grace (of my Higher Power) go I’ is a phrase that many of us know. Dr. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor, Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, much like her personality, is like a wildfire in arid country. She has a website: (www.selfcompassion.org), devoted to how we can treat ourselves with more self-compassion. A major deficiency in our culture has emerged: that of treating ourselves with kindness and self-compassion; in this writer’s eyes it’s become another silent and invisible epidemic.
Dr. Neff is doing her part to arrest this huge tide of self-hate, self-judgment, and criticism that so many of us have put on ourselves. Again, like the person she is, she’s enthusiastically doing research and communicating what she learns, both from the research and her own personal experiences. She uses audio-visual tools at her disposal proliferating many resources on her website. Kristin was recently featured in the best-selling book and award-winning documentary called The Horse Boy – www.horseboymovie.com – which chronicles her family’s adventure with autism. There are upcoming showing dates in the Austin area.
In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer at Harvard University, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. Dr. Neff told me that she’s ascertained that MSC training would be an effective tool in military Vet’s toolbox of recovery resources. Currently she’s investigating ways to implement MSC training in the VA system. This made me very happy since I’m a Vietnam Era Vet; I’ve participated in a number of Mindful Groups at the VA, and the techniques and practices of mindfulness have played a key role in my own recovery. Mindfulness practice is an experienced coping mechanism for me, and I recommend it to other Vets.
Her book titled “Self-Compassion” was published by William Morrow in April, 2011. To order the book go to:http://www.harpercollins.com.books/Self-CompassionDr-Kristin-Neff?isbn=9780061733512&HCHP;http://www.amazon.com/Self-Compassion-Beating-Yourself-Insecurity-Behind/dp/0061733512/
Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) combine the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion, providing a powerful tool for emotional resilience. Mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing—being able to turn toward and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings (such as inadequacy, sadness, anger, confusion) with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Self-compassion involves responding to these difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves when we’re hurting. Being both mindful and compassionate leads to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives. Mindful Self-Compassion can be learned by anyone. It’s the practice of repeatedly evoking good will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering—cultivating the same desire that all living beings have to live happily and free from suffering (cited from Kristen Neff’s website).
I had the great pleasure of recently interviewing Dr. Neff for this blog. I specifically focused on Conflict Resolution since that’s the blog’s theme. She mentioned that when we are in conflict– which is a natural part of living–it can be difficult to validate our own emotions, not to mention others’ emotions, with whom we may be in conflict. You might say a temporary blindness overrules our sense of heartfelt compassion. What happens then is that we use a lot of emotions (like anger, retribution, revenge, scheming, feeling shame and/or guilt, feeling worthless, hate, etc.) to keep our own story line (the self-narrative that we’re right and others against in the conflict are “dead” wrong) going in the drama.
It’s especially problematic, if we have a Psychiatric Diagnosis; we may be triggered into paranoia, psychosis, changes in our behavior manifested in extreme moods swings and behaviors, social isolation, and self-medication or self-destructive/defeating behaviors. Generally speaking, we are using our reptilian brain (impulsive and rooted in survival), rather than a brain that can positively move towards self-compassion, even in the conflict process. If we are able to shift to self-compassion we feel more safe and soothed. So a healthy plan would be for all of us to learn more about self-compassion in a preventative way.
When I brought up dealing with conflict in relationships, Dr. Neff pointed me towards Chapter Nine in her newest book, Self-Compassion, that goes into this topic extensively. My recommendation is to go to her website http://www.selfcompassion.org and explore we’re doing with self-compassion in our lives. On the website there is a self-assessment scale that can help to see how we’re doing in the domain of self-compassion.
Dr. Neff says that perhaps the most basic and simple definition of self-compassion is to love ourselves compassionately like we would a very intimate and good friend. It’s very encouraging that all of us can unlearn the conditioning of self-judgment and learn a new model: self-compassion.
© Christopher Bear Beam, MA, April 25, 2013