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Today’s conversation is all about one of my favourite topics – compassion. But it’s not about compassion for others, it’s about compassion for ourselves and how this can lead to a happier and healthier life. Self-compassion is not only linked to better emotional health, it is important for our physical and mental health too. In fact, there are now over 3000 studies showing the amazing benefits of self-compassion on our wellbeing and my guest this week is one of the leading researchers in this area and along with several others, is responsible for putting self-compassion on the scientific map. Dr Kristin Neff is a professor at the University of Texas in the department of psychology. She’s co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion and the author of several best-selling books on the topic.
In our conversation, Kristin explains what self-compassion is and why it matters. She explains the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem. Self-compassion is not about making excuses for yourself nor is it about self-pity, instead, it is very much an active, mindful state. Now I know from my patients that the very notion of self-love can make a lot of people feel very uncomfortable. Kristin explains why this might be and shares many different ways we can give ourselves compassion. She recommends that people experiment and find a method that feels easy and pleasant for them.
We also talk about the ever-present problem of our brain’s ‘inner critic’ and how our parents influence the way we talk to ourselves. She also explains why self-compassion is most definitely not selfish, in fact, people who have it are kinder, more loving and less controlling of others.
Kristin also makes a key distinction between acts of self-care – such as taking a bath, having a massage – and self-compassion. She explains that self-compassion is actually a state of mind. It’s not something you have to do, it doesn’t take time or resources. It’s simply the opposite of being self-critical. It’s a way of thinking that has your own best interests at heart. But, this way of thinking doesn’t come naturally to us. As humans, we are hard-wired for self-criticism – it’s an evolutionary mechanism that makes us feel safe. But when navigating life, who do you want in your head: an enemy who belittles you or a friend who supports you?
At the end of our conversation today, Kristin takes us through a beautiful practical exercise in finding self-compassion that I think you will really enjoy. This is such an important topic that doesn’t get spoken about enough in the conversation around health – I hope you enjoy listening.
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