I was recently interviewed about self-compassion for an article by Margarita Tartakovsky on a popular mental health website called PsychCentral.com. Here is a link to the article, and I copied the questions and answers below it. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/02/15/how-to-practice-self-compassion-when-you-think-you-cant/
Margarita Tartakovsky: What are the top 3 to 5 reasons you think practicing self-compassion is important?
Ali Miller: The opposite of self-compassion is self-criticism, and self-criticism is an experience of inner conflict. We are not experiencing inner peace when we are criticizing ourselves; we are, in essence, at war with ourselves. This inner violence is similar to outer violence, in that it hurts, divides, destroys, and takes up a lot of energy. Practicing self-compassion is a way of practicing inner peace, and I believe the more people are at peace inside themselves, the more peace there is in the world. So I see practicing self-compassion as a way of promoting peace.
Part of being human is experiencing pain. When we criticize ourselves for being in pain, we only add to our suffering. When we relate to our pain with self-compassion, we suffer less. And we feel more connected to others who suffer, less isolated.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the prominent researcher on self-compassion, the research consistently finds that greater self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression. She and her colleagues also found that self-compassion is associated with feelings of social connectedness and life satisfaction, and that self-compassionate people tend to experience more happiness, optimism, curiosity, and positive affect than those who lack self-compassion. As Neff wrote, “By wrapping one’s pain in the warm embrace of self-compassion, positive feelings are generated that help balance the negative ones.”
Margarita Tartakovsky: How do you define self-compassion?
Ali Miller: Self-compassion is a way of relating to yourself when you are in emotional or physical pain with a caring and kind interest and a desire to help yourself. It’s an experience of open-heartedness towards yourself when you are suffering, such as when you are feeling afraid, angry, sad, ashamed, disappointed, lonely, jealous, or stressed. These feelings can be so unpleasant that our tendency is to try to get rid of them, and one way we try to get rid of them is by criticizing ourselves for feeling them. Unfortunately, this attempt to get rid of our suffering backfires in the form of inner conflict, wherein one part of ourselves is feeling the unpleasant feeling, and another part is resisting feeling that feeling, often through self-criticism. Self-compassion is a way of moving towards the unpleasant feeling by acknowledging it, allowing it, and caring about it. For example, say you are feeling jealous after learning that your coworker got a raise and you didn’t. Self-criticism would sound something like, “I shouldn’t feel jealous; nice people don’t feel jealous,” whereas self-compassion would sound something like, “Ouch, I’m feeling jealous. This is painful. What can I do to care for myself in this moment of suffering?”
Margarita Tartakovsky: What are several ways people who are more used to criticizing, judging and pushing themselves ease into self-compassion?
Ali Miller: I think that most of us are more used to criticizing, judging, and pushing ourselves, to varying degrees. Self-compassion is something most of us in this culture have to work at. I find the following ways help people ease into relating to themselves with more compassion:
Margarita Tartakovsky: What are common myths about self-compassion?
Ali Miller: I think some people hear the term “self-compassion” and think it’s selfish, indulgent, or narcissistic. Or else they think it’s too “touchy-feely,” too “soft.” I think compassion in general is often confused with pity, so when people hear “self-compassion” they may think self-pity. I think the thinking goes something like, “If I don’t push myself I won’t improve.” It’s similar to thinking, “If we care for someone too much they won’t learn how to take care of themselves.” What I have seen is the opposite, though: that the more compassionate I am towards myself, the less energy is being spent on the inner conflict, and the more energy I have to devote to taking action to care for myself and others.