#054 Self-compassion & growth with Dr. Kristin Neff

#054 Self-compassion & growth with Dr. Kristin Neff

Relevant Links


Episode Transcript

Dr. Kristin Neff: People naturally feel that by calling themselves names and being harsh and really cold, that it'd be so painful. That they won't do it again, and again, that's understandable.

But what the research shows is first of all, it does work. but it doesn't work as effectively as compassion because compassion doesn't say, Oh, don't worry about it, that's not compassionate. Compassion can give some very clear, even though, honest feedback.

Who is Dr. Kirstin Neff?

Sharad Lal: Hi, everyone. Welcome to how to live a podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I'm your host Sharad Lal. This is episode 54.

We have with us an exceptional guest. She's a distinguished researcher. Bestselling author and a solitary voice in the field of self-compassion. In a world where self criticism and harshness dominate our guests today, it has made it a mission to change that narrative. This is Dr. Kristin Neff. A distinguished psychologist.

Her groundbreaking work has not only defined self-compassion as a crucial mental health tool. But also a catalyst for personal growth and learning. Dr. Neff has developed a widely recognized self-compassion scale over two decades ago. Earning her a place among the world's most influential researchers. But her impact does not stop there. Dr. Neff has been instrumental in creating programs to train teachers and co-founded the centre of mindful compassion. She's been featured in prestigious publications like the New York times Forbes, the Atlantic Harvard business review. And many others inspiring a global moment. 

In today's conversation. We'll unravel the essence of self-compassion that sets it apart from self-pity and self-love. Why it trumps self-esteem. And how it equips us to conquer comparisons and jealousy. We'll also talk about self-compassion in parenting and more. Dr. Neff is not just knowledgeable. She's incredibly practical. Prepare to enjoy and learn from this enlightening exchange. 

But before we get into this, thank you for your incredible support. We now listen to over one 20 countries And among the top 5% worldwide if you haven't already please do subscribe. It would mean the world to us. Now without further ado let's embark on this enlightening conversation with the remarkable dr kristin neff

Sharad Lal: Good morning, Dr. Neff. Welcome to the How to Live podcast. Where do we find you this morning?

Dr. Kristin Neff: I'm in Austin, Texas.

Sharad Lal: It's great to have you on the show. And thank you very much for making time, Dr. Neff. I'm a huge fan from across the world. I read your book. It made a huge impact on me. And before we dig into self compassion, Dr. Neff, I'd love to understand what got you interested in this topic and how did you go about researching self compassion?

What got Dr. Neff interested in Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff: For me, it was really a personal journey. I found out about self compassion my last year of graduate school. And basically I was under a lot of stress. I was having some personal life issues and also I was getting my PhD with no job prospects in sight. And I'd heard that mindfulness meditation was supposed to be good for stress.

So I signed up for a mindfulness course, fortunately for me the course was taught in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, who's a Zen master, recently passed, who was one of the teachers that talked the most explicitly about self compassion.

So the very first month I went, the woman leading the course said, it's really important to aim compassion inward as well as outward to give yourself support and warmth and kindness. And it never really even dawned on me as something you can do intentionally. I thought it was a pretty compassionate person to others, but I never thought I could actually intentionally be compassionate to myself. 

So I tried it out the very first night. I said, Kristin, you're going through a hard time. You're stressed. It's going to be okay. I'm here for you. I just talked to myself nicely and warmly. And I was really impressed at the difference it made in my ability to cope with all the stress I was undergoing.

And then luckily I did get a job at the University of Texas at Austin. The idea that one should be compassionate to oneself is out there, but it hasn't actually been studied empirically. So I thought okay, I want to try to do this cause it's so powerful. I'll create a scale to measure it. that started the research ball rolling. That was back in 2003, the first paper was published. So it's been over 20 years now.

Sharad Lal: What I found fascinating that you mentioned in your book while you were researching this, you came from the background of psychology where self esteem is put right up there. And psychology is a lot about getting your self esteem right. And you found that, you know what, self compassion trumps self esteem.

So I'd love for you to talk about these two and how self compassion trumps self esteem.

How does self-compassion triumph over self-esteem?

Dr. Kristin Neff: I actually did two years of postdoctoral study in the University of Denver with one of the country's leading self esteem researchers. And part of why I did that is I was getting very interested in, who is this thing we call self and why does it cause us so much suffering?

And she had done a lot of research on how self esteem can be problematic. It's good to have high self esteem by the way, should define what self esteem means. Self esteem is esteeming yourself positively, esteem and judgement. So do I judge myself positively or negatively? And it's better to judge yourself positively than to judge yourself negatively.

But why do you judge yourself positively? That's the problem. And a lot of people judge their worth based on being better than others, being special and above average, it's very comparative or it's contingent. They judge themselves positively when they look the way they want to look. or when other people like them or when they succeed at something important to them.

And so it's a fair weather friend. It's only there for you in the good times when things are going well, but what happens when you know you fail, you make a mistake or people reject you. I was experiencing the difference between self esteem that I was studying and self compassion that I was Experiencing because compassion is the word compassion, passion in the Latin means to suffer, come with.

So it really refers to how we are with our suffering, whether that's feelings of inadequacy or failure or mistakes, or, your health or just life is very difficult. You're with yourself with warmth and care and support. And so I realised that self compassion was like a really good, more stable friend.

It was always there for you, whether you succeeded or failed. The sense of worth that comes from self compassion doesn't depend on anything. It just comes from being a flawed human being, which you always are, right? so actually the first paper I wrote on self compassion I positioned it as an alternative to self esteem.

I think it was titled, “Self compassion, a healthier alternative to self esteem.” and the research shows that actually, the sense of worth that comes from it is more stable over time. It doesn't matter how you look. It doesn't matter whether you succeeded or failed and it just doesn't fluctuate as much as self esteem does.

Sharad Lal: I like that. It's not a fair weather friend. And we always go through stages where we're not too kind to ourselves, where we question ourselves, and that's a better time to get self compassion as we understand the definition of self compassion better. I know you've defined it in such a way that it is not self pity, but it's something else.

So it'd be great to try and to understand what self compassion really is. How does it differ from self pity?

How is it different from self-pity?

Dr. Kristin Neff: How does it differ from self pity or how does it differ from self love? Some people ask me, why don't you just call it self love? First of all, it's a vague term, self love could be like narcissism. my focus is on me or self pity is maybe don't like yourself, but it's still, the focus is on me.

There's actually two other elements, the way I define it, that need to go into self compassion to make it a stable and healthy mindset. kindness is the obvious one, being kind and warm and supportive, but also we need mindfulness. So mindfulness really gives us clarity. So self pity is often like our same with narcissism. We're often exaggerating things. We're seeing, we aren't seeing things clearly. We're seeing ourselves through a distorted lens or a situation through a distorted lens. Mindfulness allows us to see clearly. And part of it is because We're doing something to ourselves that we normally do for others.

We're normally compassionate to others and there's evolutionary reasons why that's the case. So to give ourselves compassion, we have to step outside of ourselves, do some perspective taking and look at ourselves and say, wow, you're really hurting or you're, you need some help. And that actually get that mindfulness.

So we neither ignore our suffering, we don't like to shove it down, but we also don't dive into it and make a drama out of it. We're just, we see things as they are. The other thing that needs to be there is what I call common humanity, or it's a sense of connectedness.

Both narcissism and self pity, as I said, they're very self focused. Compassion is actually not self focused, it's just recognizing that the human condition is imperfect. It also recognizes that whatever we experience is related to many causes and conditions or history or past or culture. It's not really just about us.

And so with self compassion, we recognize that the human experience, first of all, is flawed and imperfect. We all make mistakes, that's how we learn. No one lives a perfect life. We frame our experience in light of the shared human experience.

And when we do that, we aren't so self focused. And that helps because normally, especially when we make a mistake, we feel like everyone else in the world is living a normal, perfect life, right? A problem free life. And it's just me who's suffering or just me who's failed in some way. And that's a distortion of the thinking mind.

So compassion corrects that distortion and reminds us, Hey, no, this is how we learn. This is how we grow, like it or not, the human to be human means to be imperfect, right? By definition. And so it allows us to feel much more connected to others. So Sherrod, if I had compassion for you, you'd probably like it because it'd be like, yeah, I'd been there, it's hard to start a business or whatever you're doing.

If I pitied you. You wouldn't like it because I'd be looking down on you. It's a sense of separation. So compassion is connected in a way that some of these things like self love or self pity might not necessarily be connected.

Sharad Lal: That's so wonderful. And I like the way you brought in the lens of mindfulness, which is not dramatising it, but seeing it for what it is. And that's where self pity, self esteem come in. The two extremes are not there, stepping out and looking at it. And of course, the points of kindness and shared human experience.

So these three form self compassion. You touched upon this earlier where we are our worst critics. It was interesting to read it. Our inner voice is tough on ourselves because it's the, in reality, a desire to control. So I'd love to understand this angle better.

We're our own worst critics

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. So it's a desire to control it. It's also a desire to keep ourselves safe. And so again, people ask why is it that it's easier to be compassionate to others than myself? Why am I so self critical? I'm not as critical, especially to my friends. Maybe I'm with my partner, but, or kids, but not my friends.

And that's because evolutionarily When we're threatened, we're designed by nature to go into fight, flight, or freeze when there's some danger we, okay, what can I do to be safe? We get activated. We get agitated or we raise our cortisol levels. And so we turn fight, flight, or freeze inward.

So self criticism is the fight response. Like I'm going to beat myself up to try to get myself in line, control myself so I don't make mistakes, or sometimes it's not so much about control. It often is sometimes about. I'm afraid of other people judging me, so I'm going to judge myself first so it won't hurt so badly.

That's another way we try to keep ourselves safe. Or if I'm on the floor, I can't fall any further, right? And the flea response is actually shame, which is very closely linked to self criticism. That feeling like I'm uniquely flawed and we want to sink and slink away from other people.

That's also an evolutionary response. In the past, if we did something to piss off the group members, we'd be expelled from the group and we're programmed biologically to want not to do that because it hurts so badly. And then the freeze response is actually rumination. So not only do we have the thought I'm bad, but it goes over and like the loops in our head.

And that's the freeze response where it's okay, I'm going to stay here until the problem is solved because it's really scary. Now, when your friend makes a mistake, for instance, you aren't so personally threatened. And actually, the reason sometimes we aren't as compassionate with ourselves, whether our partners or our kids, is because sometimes we do feel threatened because they're so close to us.

But a friend is defined as someone who, the relationship is one of mutual support. So with a friend, our first instinct is actually not fight, flight, or freeze. Our first instinct is tend and befriend, which is also an evolved response. It's, so group members take care of each other that helps the group survive.

So being compassionate, being warm, being caring, being supportive is also natural. It's just that it's more natural for us. It's to do for others, not ourselves. So we're doing a little hack.

We're doing a little trick in that we're using a system that was evolutionarily more designed for others. We're turning it inward, but the body doesn't know the difference. When we treat ourselves, like we would treat a friend or like a friend would treat us, we still respond the same way, it's a lot of research showing that physiologically, we also respond the same way cortisol goes down, things like heart rate, variability increases.

Sharad Lal: I'd love to dig into that now that we've come there, that we understand this intellectually as a concept. If we can turn that around, hack ourselves and do it to ourselves, because we know how to do it to others, but we start doing it to ourselves. Now, how do we cultivate this self compassion to be able to do it to ourselves?

How can we be more self-compassionate towards ourselves?

Dr. Kristin Neff: You can imagine a friend, or anyone, maybe a spiritual mentor, a grandparent, or someone that you think of as very compassionate, what they would say to you.

You can also think of what the compassionate part of you might say to the wounded part of you. So there's a lot of ways in. But basically we just need to access this template that we have inside of us. What does compassion sound like? notice what you just said to yourself.

Is that compassionate? Would you say that to someone you cared about? Often the answer is no. The first is just awareness. Sometimes it's so automatic. If we're so used to that shaming, critical voice, we don't even hear it. So the first is just noticing it and then using another template that we have, which is what a supportive compassionate voice sounds like and then beginning to use it with ourselves.

Sharad Lal: I can see Thich Nhat Hanh’s influence coming here. It's taking the mindfulness template of acknowledgement and then intervening in the process. And like you said, when you understand it, you keep practising it and over time you get better.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yes, exactly. And it's interesting. So mindfulness is huge. You really, and you really can't have self compassion, I believe, at least without mindfulness, because there's no awareness to interrupt that automatic thought process when a lot of, again, this is just our, it's not, we don't choose to beat ourselves up.

It's just happening. We need to have the mindfulness to be aware of it. And have the space around it so we aren't controlled by it. But it's interesting, a lot of mindfulness teachers have come to some of my workshops and said, this is really different because of the warmth. So, I call it space and warmth.

Mindfulness gives us space around the automatic reaction so we can choose something different. But we need intentional warmth, love, kindness, and care. And that really changes everything. And again, part of this is for evolutionary reasons because warmth care makes us feel safe as infants, being cared for and loved by our parents is what makes us feel safe.

It's not like just when our parents gave us space. As a matter of fact, if they give us too much space, that would be scary. It was being held. It was being cared for. It was being loved. Being supported. That's what made us feel safe. So we need to intentionally do that for ourselves. And when we do both, we give ourselves space so we aren't controlled by the automatic thoughts, and we give ourselves warmth.

And then the third element, I'm like a broken record, but you really do need all three. Which is the interconnectedness or some of my Buddhist friends say, self compassion. Like actually I got blowback at first because isn't self the problem? Why don't you just call it compassion?

The reason I call it self compassion is because we have to intentionally aim it inward. You can call it inner compassion. There's really not a lot of self and self compassion because it's connected. I'm a human being. I'm part of this larger whole. It's not just me. I'm not totally in control.

It's scary to admit that, but it's true. So I'm not in control. This is a great saying, it's not my fault, but it is my responsibility and that no one else is going to do it for me. So I need to consciously choose to bring in warmth, bring in kindness. The role of kindness becomes so clear because mindfulness is things as they are.

Sharad Lal: It could be a little cold. It could be just reality. You need warmth, like you said. And I love how you explain the shared experience. We are human beings. I like how those three things come together every time we talk about that.

Self compassion can be in tough feedback

Dr. Kristin Neff: That's also a good point. You make sure I'm about that. It doesn't mean we're letting ourselves get away with things. So people, this is where people get really confused and they stop. They think. By being really harsh and critical, they're holding themselves accountable. People naturally feel that by calling themselves names and being harsh and really cold, that it'd be so painful. That they won't do it again, and again, that's understandable.

But what the research shows is first of all, it does work. It works as a motivator. It works so it is painful. So it's not like it doesn't work at all, but it doesn't work as effectively as compassion because compassion doesn't say, Oh, don't worry about it, that's not compassionate.

If you're not worrying about behaviours that are harmful to yourself or others, that's causing suffering, that's not alleviating suffering. So compassion can give some very clear, even though, honest feedback. Wow, you really harmed yourself. Or you really harmed someone else.

Yes, it's human. We all do it. But, if I care, I don't want myself to do it again. mindfulness is what gives us that clear feedback.but kindness is, it's like encouragement. It's okay, you made a mistake. You really blew it. Ouch. That really hurt. Or I'm so sorry. So you have to first deal with the pain. Cause if you skip over the pain and go straight to, I'm just going to forgive myself, compassion, you aren't actually being mindful. You're fooling yourself, right?

You're papering things over. So you have to acknowledge the pain of what you've done. But then you try to make a change not because you're inadequate or you're worthless, but because you care, because you want to be well, you want others to be well, which is the meaning of compassion.

And it's actually more effective because the problem with self criticism is it gets your attention, but it also distracts you. Because first of all, how can you learn from your mistakes if all you hear is I'm such a failure. I'm so horrible. And it actually makes us more anxious. It undermines your self confidence.

It actually interferes with our ability to learn and grow. So compassion increases our ability to learn from our mistakes. Okay. Okay. What did I do wrong? How could I do better next time? I believe in myself. I care. I will support myself. And then the long run is actually more effective than self criticism.

And we have a lot of research to support this. One recent study with athletes in college. These are high level athletes on scholarship at college. The second best is not good enough.

They have to be number one, keep their scholarship. And we taught them to be compassionate about their mistakes and setbacks. And again, for an athlete, it is not compassionate to say, Oh, that's okay. Great game. It's not, that's not, compassionate. It's okay. You need to fix this. You need to prove that this is not working so well. That's compassionate because they're all about learning and improving constantly. Those athletes that were taught to be more self compassionate compared to those who weren't.

Improve more. Their performance improved. Because, again, you can respond to feedback more effectively. When it's okay, I blew it. Ouch. First of all, acknowledge, ouch. That hurt. But it's only human. What can I do differently next time? It's all about the source of the motivation.

It's the source of motivation. I'm a loser. And I have to do better, or else I'm, I'm worthless. And that adds all the baggage of the emotional stuff, like fear and anxiety and stuff that interferes. Or I want to do better because I care. If I don't, that's okay. I'm still a worthwhile human being.

But I want to do better because this is my life's goal. And this is really important to me. A lot of research shows that self compassion encourages what, you probably know this, a growth as opposed to performance mindset.

So performance mindset is doing it, succeeding because you, it's what it says about you. Growth is succeeding because you just, you're interested, you want to learn and grow. It absolutely encourages the latter, which a lot of research shows is more effective.

Sharad Lal: That's such a critical point Dr. Neff, because a lot of us have grown up, and looked at our idols, and I looked at a lot of sports people who would say, I'm my biggest critic, I'm hard on myself, and we feel that's the way to approach it, and with what you said is, If we do that, maybe it works for a particular while and we put pressure on ourselves, but with self-compassion over a period of time, it breaks the stress, it breaks the momentum of the stress.

And that then gives us a better chance to take the lessons to learn and come back and become better. Have the growth mindset that you said and grow. So it actually helps.

What is the growth mindset?

Dr. Kristin Neff: It actually does help. It gives you the resources to be your best, And again, so I would be lying if I said that self criticism doesn't work a lot of top people as you say are very Self critical, but you don't think what's happening when they say that they're wanting compassion there's a part of them that feels like if I said to you short, Oh, I'm such a horrible academic, you'd probably say, no, you aren't.

There's a part of me that desperately wants to hear, no, you aren't, you're still a good person. So I'm giving, giving it to others to give me the feedback that I need. We can give it directly to ourselves. But we do have to remember, and sometimes some people misuse. Self compassion. You can misuse anything.

You can misuse love. You can misuse anything. So if you give yourself compassion as a way to make excuses, or to, to paper over the truth, oh, it's not important, or it doesn't matter when it really does, you aren't being self compassionate. You're fooling yourself, and you have to keep an eye out for that because we're only human.

We all do it. It's natural. But when you're doing that, It's not self-compassion. Self-compassion can be tough. It can be like tough love sometimes, but still love is coming from a good place, not a mean place.

Sharad Lal: Sticking with self compassion and ambition I know in your book you mentioned that self compassion can also help us with comparisons and jealousy, which we are bound to feel. How does that...

Dr. Kristin Neff: So again, so there's a lot of research comparing self-compassion to self-esteem and that, and most of the research that you're talking about comes from that line of research, because self-esteem, typically we need to get it by being better than others. If I said, Sharad your podcast, it's average. You're going to be a little hurt. If you say, Kristin, your research, it's average. I'm going to be hurt. That's just the way self esteem works. We have to be special and above average just for baseline, just not to feel badly about ourselves.

So self compassion, because the sense of self worth doesn't come, it's unconditional. It comes just from being human. The moment you're born, you don't have to like, go to graduate school or even go to nursery school to be worthy of compassion. The moment you're born, you're a human being who experiences, who feels, who has emotions.

The worth is part of, comes along with just being a human being. And therefore it's really unshakable. And so we don't need to have that sense of worth. We don't need to achieve. We don't have to judge ourselves as good. Our worth is unconditional.

So we did a study with people who were mainly women who are having weight loss concerns or unhappy with their weight and their body image. And we had them listen to the meditations on my website for three weeks. And we found that after those three weeks, their sense of self worth was less contingent on their appearance, which is very, comparative, like how do I compare to other people?

The bottom line is I am with all my flaws, I'm a human, I'm conscious, living, breathing, beating heart, then you don't have to compare yourself to others to be worthy. And it takes a huge amount of pressure off.

Sharad Lal: That's huge. Connected to that, you talked about the concept of sympathetic joy, feeling happy for other people's success. How does self compassion have a role in that?

Can self-compassion contribute to success?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Sympathetic joy is something they talk about in Buddhism. So not only can you have compassion for others, which is feeling for their suffering, you can also have joy, which is, being happy in other people's happiness. We can also do that for ourselves.

It's not self compassion just because by definition, the word passion in the Latin means suffering. It's already with her suffering, but I call it self appreciation. That we can also appreciate the good things about yourself and the good things about others. So this is putting the lens not on suffering, but on joy or success or happiness.

And we're so funny. We all want to be special and above average. At the same time, we have a very difficult time. Revealing our successes because we think it's, I don't want to get used to that because I'll be knocked off my pedestal. We're really uncomfortable thinking about our successes as well.

I want to be at the top, but it's also lonely at the top. We're very conflicted about this. What we really want is that sense of connection and love. I'm just going to say it. I think all human beings, what we really want, we're born into this world, not only wanting, but needing connection and love just to survive.

And so the same thing with our positive achievements and our successes. When we feel isolated from them or we feel afraid of that, then we start thinking that if I lose it and other people, it just starts getting messy. But if it's just, okay, we are already.

Love and we're already connected then I can take joy in my successes. Does it last or not? Just you know, who knows? Maybe not. I'm gonna enjoy it right now. Does it mean I'm better than anyone because everyone has strengths and good qualities and moments of joy and success? It's not comparative.

That's an interesting thing. The less we feel separate from others, the less we need to compare ourselves with others. Because we're all this one big humanity expressing itself, in an interconnected way. Brain research supports this. We think, like our emotions are our own. It's not the way the brain works. 

We're constantly resonating, neurologically with other people's emotions, with their mindsets. I'm affecting you, you're affecting me. We're creating this field, this whole field called interpersonal neurobiology, you may have heard about, that shows this is actually how it works. The sense of separation is really just a thought. It's not true.

Sharad Lal: Such an interesting point. And this is also such a difficult point, Dr. Neff, for people who are strong performers like you. You've done well all your life, and there's that competitive edge that is taking you. But intellectually, you probably understand that, you know what, there is a sense of belonging and connectedness, but there's also individuality in performing well.

How do you do it? I'm sure you'd be struggling with it when you're actually trying to do it and experience it. How do you, how have you gone about that?

Dr. Kristin Neff: One of the things that I find very helpful is a kind of a part of psychology like this, psychology is like internal family systems or just in psychology, there's the idea that we have different parts of ourselves. Just like we have an inner critic, we have a compassionate part, we have a part of us that I've got my professional part of myself that is successful or wants to be successful.

And then, you might say our true self. Is this just, we're part of this interconnected whole. I think we need to listen to these, all these parts of ourselves.

So the part of yourself that wants to be successful, that wants to achieve, there is nothing wrong with that. It's just when we confuse that part of ourselves with our whole self that we forget that just as shouldn't be a part of us that wants to achieve and be the best. It doesn't mean that we are actually separate.

Or that, the reality is that our worth depends on that. This is just a part of ourselves and we can encourage it. We can say you go get them and you do your best and wonderful and I'm here to support you. But we don't have to be confused. That part of ourselves that wants to achieve our true nature, which is much bigger than that part of ourselves.

Sharad Lal: I like that. I like that. Which gives each part its space to do what it has to.

Dr. Kristin Neff: exactly, and it's beautiful, and that's what makes us human and unique, and everyone has a calling, believe, or a purpose, areas in which we shine. It's just really the source of why we want to do it. Do we do it because we think we have to be worthy?

But worth is unconditional, then we do it because. It springs from our heart because we want to express ourselves in this wonderful, beautiful way. We want this gift to give ourselves and others. it comes from a much more wholesome place.

Sharad Lal: That's a wonderful point. Changing tracks a bit, Dr. Neff, how do you think self compassion should come into play in parenting? Like we obviously want to instil discipline. How does it come into play?

Self-compassion in parenting

Dr. Kristin Neff: It's so important in two ways for ourselves as parents for the stress of parenting because we're mistakes. I've, you may know I have a child with autism. But you know whether or not you have a special needs kid it is hard to raise kids they go through adolescence they you know have phases they aren't you and they.

They make mistakes. It's difficult. But having compassion for ourselves, knowing that we're just doing best we can just take Rowan, for instance, he's doing really well now he's 21 and he's driving.

When his autism was much more severe and would have these tantrums and I would just, my first, because I had my self compassion practice, I would just turn to myself. I would put my hands on my heart. I would just say, so hard right now. Just be there for myself.

I consciously give myself compassion. And so I recommend parents do that. Give yourself compassion for the pain and challenge parenting. But the bonus of that is that it actually helps your child, because again, like I said, the way our brains work, we actually have mirror neurons and parts of the brain linked to, whose whole function is to resonate with the emotions of others.

So I would find with my son, if he wasn't having a bad tantrum, Giving my self compassion would help calm down because he would, if I got really agitated and freaked out, he would ramp up,but if you give yourself compassion and you calm down, your child could resonate with your more loving, calm mindset that actually helps them.

So that's, so it's not a selfish thing. It actually helps your child because they're interacting with a more compassionate presence as a parent. And then also if you can model it, it's also so useful, you can model it out loud. Like the next time you make a mistake in front of your child, you say, this is a great opportunity to model what self compassion looks like.

So what does self compassion look like? components. Mindfulness oh, I made a mistake. I'm gonna, I'm gonna see it. It hurts. Ouch. Doesn't feel good. I'm not pretending I didn't do it. Common humanity. Well, it's only human. It's part of life.

That's what happens. That's how we grow from it. Then children know that, oh, I see, this is the way you're supposed to talk to yourself. Some parents are really compassionate to their kids. And they beat themselves up in front of their kids and the kids are still getting the message. This is the best way to treat yourself, it's just really crucial for parents, also professional caregivers.

If you're a coach, or any sort of helping profession, self compassion is absolutely key.

Sharad Lal: My kids are young, so I can see the difference that energy makes. When you make a mistake, sometimes because of guilt, you double down on it and you keep making mistakes and you keep getting angry with the kid when you're angry with yourself.

And it's just a loop. And I think self compassion can cut that loop where you take a step back and the whole energy shifts and everyone's all right.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. And it's fun. I talk about energy too and it sounds a little woo, but it's actually not. The more we're learning about how the brain works, these are signals. Our brains are giving to others, we can feel them. So it is very true. When you say the energy shifts, it's because the whole field of interpersonal resonance that our brains are doing shifts

That's why it's so key to pay attention to what your internal energy is like, and by the way, I'm actually reactive by wiring, it's not like I'm always in this loving, compassionate space.

But what I am pretty good at is acknowledging it, now, apologising. I'm still hoping that eventually I won't be reactive. Eventually it will not happen so much, but if, even if it doesn't, it still makes a huge difference to be able to acknowledge, own it, repair.

Sharad Lal: Thanks for describing how to model it. You'd also talked about the self compassion practise your hand in your heart.

Keep Your hand on your heart

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah, so a physical touch is a really easy way to practise self compassion because remember, touch is one of the most powerful signals of compassion because, babies, parents have no other way to communicate compassion and care to their babies other than touch because babies can't they can't understand what you're saying. Well, actually, not only just touch with tone of voice. Tone for the first few years of life is mainly tone and touch and then the words start coming in. So tone and touch are two ways you can give yourself compassion. Touch, you can put your hands on your heart or your face or you hold your hands or any sort of touch.

What it actually does as research is it changes your physiology. You deactivate sympathetic arousal, like lower cortisol and inflammation, you activate parasympathetic heart rate variability, et cetera, so you your physiology. I think there's something about physically holding yourself that reminds us of being held as children or by a help. Way to do it. Watching your tone. Is your tone warm or is it cold? Again, a baby, they have no idea what you're saying, but they certainly know, is that tone warm or cold? And so we hear that and we respond to it as well. And then really the easiest way is just to think, how would I treat a friend I cared about who was in the exact same situation I'm in?

Sharad Lal: That's a great reminder there. Dr. Neff, we've talked about quite a few things. I was wondering, is there any part of self compassion that we don't have?

Dr. Kristin Neff: my latest work differentiates between what I like to call fierce and tender self compassion. And it is really important. So tender self compassion is the accepting part of self compassion. It's more of that warm, nurturing energy. It has a softer, more gentle tone to it. So we unconditionally accept ourselves.We soothe ourselves, we comfort ourselves and eventually we start to heal. But acceptance is only half of the story to alleviate suffering.

We also need to take action to alleviate suffering. And that's what I call fear. Self compassion. So for instance, protecting ourselves is a really important aspect of self compassion. Drawing boundaries, saying no, if we're in a situation or someone crosses our boundaries or is treating us unfairly, we need to stand up for ourselves, find our voice as an aspect of self compassion.

Providing our needs, actually saying, some of my precious time, energy, and resources I have to give to myself. Not to the exclusion of others, but in addition to others, I need to take action to meet my needs because no one is going to do it. And if I just give and give and don't give to myself, I'm going to be empty and dried up, burnt out.

So that's part of fierce self compassion and then motivating change, which we have about. But it's like yin and yang, yin is a more tender accepting side. Yang is a more fierce action oriented side. They need to be in balance. If we're too accepting and tender and we don't take action, we might become complacent.

But if we're too much taking action or we become aggressive or there's no acceptance of our flawed humanity, that's not good either, so we need to balance both. And so that's something else to keep in mind. And sometimes I ask myself what type of compassion do I need right now?

And so typically the tender compassion is more about ourselves and our emotions. The fierce self compassion is more about our behaviours or others behaviours and situations. but both are absolutely essential to self compassion.

Sharad Lal: Very interesting. And there's action to it. It's not necessarily a verb as well. Some self compassion can be action as well.

Dr. Kristin Neff: For instance, with the research studies, if you take an MRI of someone experiencing compassion, the motor cortex often gets activated because there's a desire to do something to help in some way. It's not passive. It is very active, that's important. There's also, role socialisation comes into this.

Unfortunately, there's a reason why most of the people who show up at my workshops are female, because a lot of boys are teased for being too sensitive, for instance. And that these are human qualities. it's not whether you're associated with a female or male gender role. These are human qualities. And both are necessary for everyone.

Sharad Lal: I remember in your book also you've written that a lot of men, shame comes in the way of self compassion.

Can shame affect self compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff: If you look at, if you were young and like you were bullied or not accepted for being sensitive to your emotions, of course that's going to go underground. And the reason that's a problem is because the research shows clearly that self compassion is one of the most important.

Sharad Lal: That’s powerful, like strong sources of coping and resilience we have available of us for us, whether it's going through combat or hurricanes or like COVID when things get tough, having the access to this resource will make you strong and allow you to get through it without having to like turn to drugs and alcohol or other. Ways of coping or spiralling into depression or anxiety. So it's a strength. It's a fierce strength. 

And somehow people don't get that message. And I want people to understand that because it's really key.And the work you're doing, Dr. Neff is so powerful in getting the message across and the email I wrote to you, especially in Asia, we are so tough on ourselves and maybe it's everywhere, but we're so tough on ourselves.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It is everywhere. It's interesting, but there are some cultural differences. Like Asia is not one thing. For instance, in Thailand, we did a study. Buddhism is part of the culture. It's true, and people are a little more self compassionate. It's a little more part of the culture in Taiwan.

There's a really strong emphasis on achievement and like social academic achievement, the traditions are often one of the ways you achieve by being really self critical, And that can lead to harshness.

The United States is also an achievement oriented culture, that there's that misperception that feedback needs to be harsh. It doesn't need to be honest, but not harsh. Harshness only stands in the way. Shame shuts down your ability to learn and makes it harder. To grow and to correct your mistakes. It's actually counterproductive.

Sharad Lal: I guess it might work over a period of time because we might do well despite it, but there could be a stage where it gets so much that's where you see those breakdowns that happen..

Dr. Kristin Neff: Depression and shame are not exactly great get up and go motivating mindsets are they?

Sharad Lal: Absolutely right. Thank you very much for all the work, Dr. Neff. Before we go, as a bottom line, what's the message that you would like to, if there's one message you'd like to leave the listeners with, what would that be?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Be your own ally, don't be an enemy, you know What's going to make you stronger when you, whether it's work or you know dealing with a crazy world, be on your own side. Support yourself. It'll help you cutting yourself down. It's not going to help you. It's just going to make things harder. So be your own ally.

Sharad Lal: What a wonderful message, Dr. Neff. And thank you once again for such good work that you're doing. It's impacting people across the world, all over the world. And I'm very grateful you made time for this podcast. Thank you very much.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It's been a pleasure.


Thank you, Dr. Neff for such an enlightening conversation. For more on Dr. Neff, we will drop a link in the show notes. He has an action step. All of us could consider. Can we try? Self-compassion. You've all heard about the research on self-compassion

And how it's better than criticism. We've also heard that self-compassion does not inhibit ambition. Instead it helps us learn and grow. Now let's try it for ourselves. A simple way. Is to catch, uh, inner critic. 

Observe how we talk to ourselves. How harsh are we? What’s our tone like?What does it do to us? Does it stress us or energise us? How can we be kinder to ourselves? Like how we are to our friends. What version of self compassion can work for us. Let's try this for a few months and see what it does. 

We can also check out Dr. Neff's website for some ideas. There's a link to that in the show notes. Best of luck in your journey. That's it for today's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. We will be back with another episode two weeks from now On November 21st. Hope you join us for that. See you next time. Have a wonderful day ahead. Bye bye.