Author: Cuca Azinovic, Certified Mindful Eating and Self-Compassion Teacher and Mentor
This blog post is an excerpt from Kristin Neff's article on the 5 Myths of Self-Compassion adapted to our Mindful Eating practice.
Most people don’t have any problem with seeing compassion as a thoroughly commendable quality. It seems to refer to an amalgam of unquestionably good qualities: kindness, mercy, tenderness, benevolence, understanding, empathy, sympathy, and fellow feeling, along with an impulse to help other living creatures, human or animal, in distress.
But we seem less sure about self-compassion. For many, it carries the whiff of all those bad “self” terms: self-pity, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-centered, and just plain selfish.
Particularly in our Western countries, where we tend to be very hard on ourselves, with a constant feeling of not doing enough and, worse, not being enough.
|Foto de Sir Manuel en Unsplash
Many people in our culture have misgivings about self-compassion, perhaps because they don’t know what it looks like, much less how to practice it.
Professor Paul Gilbert, Compassion Focused Therapy founder, defines self-compassion as a sensitivity to the suffering of self with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it.
Self-compassion goes beyond accepting our experience as it is and adds something more—embracing the experiencer (i.e., ourselves) with warmth and tenderness when our experience is painful. In Pema Chödrön's words: Self-compassion isn't a self-improvement project or ideal we're trying to live up to. Having self-compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves and imperfections that we don't even want to look at.
Self-compassion also includes an element of wisdom—recognition of our common humanity. This means accepting that, along with everyone else on the planet, we’re flawed and imperfect individuals, just as likely as anyone. This sounds obvious, but it’s funny how easily we forget. We fall into the trap of believing that things are “supposed” to go well, and that something must have gone wrong when we make a mistake or some difficulty comes along.
There’s now an impressive and growing body of research demonstrating that relating to ourselves in a kind, friendly manner is essential for emotional well-being. Not only does it help us avoid the inevitable consequences of harsh self-judgment—depression, anxiety, and stress—it also engenders a happier and more hopeful approach to life. More pointedly, research proves false many of the common myths about self-compassion that keep us trapped in the prison of relentless self-criticism.
According to Kristin Neff, there are five main myths:
- Self-compassion is a form of self-pity
- Self-compassion means weakness
- Self-compassion will make me complacent
- Self-compassion is narcissistic
- Self-compassion is selfish
Let's explore these myths in more detail from her perspective and see how they can be applied to our mindful eating and body acceptance practice.
Myth 1 - Self-compassion is a form of self-pity
One of the biggest myths is that the practice of self-compassion is about feeling sorry for yourself. However, self-compassion is an antidote to self-pity and the tendency to whine about our bad luck. This isn’t because self-compassion allows us to tune out the difficulty safely, taking care of ourselves; in fact, it makes us more willing to accept, experience, and acknowledge difficult feelings with kindness—which paradoxically helps us process and let go of them more fully.
When we spice up our mindful eating practice with self-compassion, we are able to observe and be present with what is generating the turmoil inside us, perceiving the turmoil as part of life. As a coping mechanism. And not as if something is broken inside us. Self-compassion gives us the courage to be understanding and patient towards aspects of our personality we do not like. And it helps us to break the downward spiral that can come with judgment.
Myth 2 - Self-compassion means weakness
Self-compassion is one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience available to us. When we go through major life crises, self-compassion appears to make all the difference in our ability to survive and even thrive.
|Pix de Drop the Label Movement en Unsplash
Myth 3 - Self-compassion will make me complacent
Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it will undermine our motivation to push ourselves to do better. If we do not criticize ourselves for failing to live up to our standards, we will automatically succumb to slothful defeatism.
The truth is, especially in Western countries, most of us have likely grown up with an overdeveloped critical voice. In some cases, it has helped us achieve grand results but at a very high personal cost. In some others, this voice has prevented us from even trying.
A good deal of research clearly shows that self-compassion is far more effective for personal motivation than self-punishment.
The caring voice we develop with self-compassion helps us maintain our self-confidence and feel emotionally supported. It helps us to bounce back faster when we fall and helps us learn from our mistakes instead of letting guilt and shame drag us down.
Self-compassion, far from being a way to evade personal accountability, actually strengthens it.
When we can see beyond the distorting lens of harsh self-judgment, we get in touch with other parts of ourselves – the parts that care and want everyone, including ourselves, to be as healthy and happy as possible. This provides the encouragement and support needed to be resilient. It helps us develop an honest and caring relationship with ourselves.
Myth 4 - Self-compassion is narcissistic
High self-esteem requires standing out in a crowd—being special and above average. The desire to see ourselves as better than average can lead to narcissistic behavior.
But self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Although both are strongly linked to psychological well-being, self-esteem is a positive evaluation of self-worth, while self-compassion isn’t a judgment or an evaluation. Instead, self-compassion is a way of relating to the ever-changing landscape of who we are with kindness and acceptance, especially when we fail or feel inadequate. In other words, self-esteem requires feeling better than others, whereas self-compassion requires acknowledging that we share the human condition of imperfection.
Self-esteem is also inherently fragile, bouncing up and down according to our latest success or failure. But self-compassion is always there for us, a reliable source of support, regardless of success or failure.
This suggests that self-compassionate people are better able to remain emotionally stable, regardless of the degree of praise or criticism they receive from others. Self-esteem, in contrast, thrives only when the reviews are good, and it may lead to evasive tactics when there’s a possibility of facing unpleasant truths about oneself.
When extrapolating this to our mindful eating practice and the relationship with our bodies, with time and practice, we stop relying on the outside world for approval and start connecting with our inner wisdom. We develop an intimate connection with ourselves based on self-care rather than the tyranny of self-image. We move from the goal of achieving a certain look to the intention of caring for ourselves and our bodies, our HOME.
It does not mean that we have to like all the parts of our body, but we can still care for our body as our home, the container of our SELVES.
Myth 5 - Self-compassion is selfish
Many people are suspicious of self-compassion because they conflate it with selfishness. However, when we are absorbed in self-judgment, there is little bandwidth left to think about anything other than our inadequate, worthless selves. Beating ourselves up can be a paradoxical form of self-centeredness.
When we can be kind and nurturing to ourselves, our main emotional needs are met, leaving us in a better position to focus on others.
The irony is that being good to ourselves helps us to be good to others, while being bad to ourselves only gets in the way. Furthermore, a growing body of research indicates that self-compassion helps people sustain the act of caring for others.
Caring for ourselves is a much more difficult task than caring for others, especially for those of us who did not have a clear reference when growing up or had not been taught how to do it.
However, if our personal needs are not met at the end of the day, there will be very little left for others. We could end up developing what we call in the mindful eating practice, Heart Hunger, which is a need to fill a hole, not in the stomach but in the heart. Heart hunger gets satisfied by a sense of intimacy and connection with ourselves.
Soothing with food is one way to take care of ourselves. However, when food is the only way to self-soothe, we lose the capacity to choose, and it can become dysfunctional.
As we develop our self-compassion practice, we learn to develop other ways to help us engage in self-care, such as taking time to rest, relax and engage in entertainment or social connection.
No food can ever satisfy this form of hunger. To satisfy our heart hunger, we must learn to nourish our hearts daily, and self-compassion is the best ingredient.
Upcoming Live Event:
Cultivating your SELF-COMPASSION practice: how to start?
Presented by Cuca Azinovic, Certified Mindful Eating and Self-Compassion Teacher and Mentor
When? Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Time? 12:00-1:00 PM ET
Or register to receive the Recording Only if you are unable to attend live.
Cuca Azinovic is a certified mindfulness teacher and co-active coach specializing in mindful eating and self-compassion, based in a little coastal town called Benicassim, in Spain. She has a Masters's degree in Mindfulness in Health Contexts from Complutense University in Madrid (Spain).
References mentioned in the article:
- Full Article from Kristin Neff
- Chödron, P (2016). When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Shambhala.
- Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind. London: Constable.
- Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: William Morrow.
Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133–1143.
Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Allen, A. B., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 887–904.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250.
Raes, F. (2010). Rumination and worry as mediators of the relationship between self-compassion and depression, and anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 757– 761.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sbarra, D. A., Smith, H. L., & Mehl, M. R. (2012). When leaving your ex, love yourself: Observational ratings of self-compassion predict the course of emotional recovery following marital separation. Psychological Science, 23(3), 261–269.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. Simon and Schuster.
Yarnell, L. M., Stafford, R. E., Neff, K. D., Reilly, E. D., Knox, M. C., & Mullarkey, M. (2015). Meta-analysis of gender differences in self-compassion. Self and Identity.
Adams, C. E. and Leary, M. R. (2007). Promoting self-compassionate attitudes toward eating among restrictive and guilty eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(10), 1120. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2007.26.10.1120
Fennig, S., Hadas, A., Itzhaky, L., Roe, D., Apter, A. and Shahar, G. (2008). Self-criticism is a key predictor of eating disorder dimensions among inpatient adolescent females. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 41(8), 762-765. doi: 10.1002/eat.20573
Frank, E.S. (1991). Shame and guilt in eating disorders. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 61, 303-306
Gale, C., Gilbert, P., Read, N. and Goss, K. (2014). An evaluation of the impact of introducing compassion-focused therapy to a standard treatment programme for people with eating disorders. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 21(1), 1-12. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1806