Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I speak to so many people who judge themselves harshly, who compare themselves unfavorably to others (this is especially true in yoga classes), whose inner dialogue is a constant torrent of negative self-statements. We now know that these thoughts result in a release of harmful stress hormones in our bodies.

You can change your thinking and as a result, improve your health and well-being. 

There are tools and techniques that help in thought-shifting---CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), hypnosis, and this one from Linda Graham's great newsletters, Healing and Awakening to Aliveness and Wholeness (http://lindagraham-mft.net). The following entry from her September 2012 edition is worthy of consideration, as it addresses the toxicity of self-criticism and the power of viewing ourselves with compassion.  Linda Graham's commentary is based on Kristen Neff's work (referenced below).


People who are compassionate toward their failings and imperfections experience greater well-being that those who repeatedly judge themselves. The feelings of security and net worth provided by self-compassion are also highly stable, kicking in precisely when self-esteem falls down.”
This is the intriguing premise – and promise – of Kristin Neff’s book on Self-Compassion, based on 15 years of research at the University of Texas-Austin, and her own deep practice as the compassionate – and self-compassionate – mother of an autistic child.

Neff is deft at describing the differences between self-esteem (based on qualities or performance) and self-compassion (based on intrinsic worth and love), saying that both self-esteem and self-compassion help people feel happier and thus avoid anxiety and depression, but when the chips are down (and the props of self-esteem fall away) self-compassion is a steadier support in helping us re-right ourselves.

Neff is clear, as all researchers about positive emotions are, that self-compassion is never about erasing negative emotions, it’s about embracing them. (Her metaphor of the combination of the sweetness and bitterness of dark chocolate works for me.) The self-compassion mantra she developed for herself:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.

One exercise Neff recommends for developing self-compassion is this one:

 Keep a compassion journal, writing down experiences of the day or the week where you were able to a) mindfully notice either self-criticism or the new habit of self-compassion; b) notice how you were able to be kind to yourself; c) notice how either the pain or the kindness evoked a sense of connection to other people.
Affirm: I will be compassionate with myself today.

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