People often advise us to stop being hard on ourselves and to learn self-compassion. But not all of us know exactly how to go about it. Most of us only have a vague, superficial understanding of the concept.
Now there are some specific guidelines that could help. They are in the form of a simple self-test devised by Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas.
“Most of us have a good friend in our lives, who is kind of unconditionally supportive,” Neff said, according to the BBC. “Self-compassion is learning to be that same warm, supportive friend to yourself.”
This approach entails forgiving our mistakes and making a focussed effort towards self-care during times of disappointment or embarrassment.
Neff has come up with a kind of a self-help quiz for people to answer and rate themselves on a scale of 1 (almost never) to 5 (almost always). The points are divided in two sets. The first set is:
I try to be loving toward myself when I’m feeling emotional pain.
I try to see my failings as part of the human condition.
When something painful happens, I try to take a balanced view of the situation.
The second set is:
I’m disapproving and judgmental about my flaws and inadequacies.
When I think about my inadequacies it tends to make me feel more separate and cut off from the rest of the world.
When I’m feeling down, I tend to fixate on everything that’s wrong.
If you more or less agree with the first set of statements, and not as much with the second, your self-compassion level is high.
The BBC reports that Neff, who went through a difficult phase after a divorce, has based some of her findings on interviews with “hundreds of undergraduate students.” She found a clear link between excessive self-criticism and depression and anxiety. Conversely, those that were kinder on themselves had greater satisfaction from life.
The study also established that self-compassion was distinct from self-esteem. A person could have high self-esteem, and yet be hard on themselves after perceived failures.
Historically, some individuals with above-average talent and ambitions wore their habit of being tough on themselves as a badge of honour. But times have changed, and such an approach, research indicates, is not healthy anymore