Give yourself a break: The importance of self-compassion

WASHINGTON – Self-criticism is more common than many people may think.

Unfortunately, repetitive self-criticism can be harmful to one’s health, so one expert is setting out to change the way people perceive themselves.

“When we aren’t perfect or we fail or we notice something about ourselves that we don’t like, we feel as if it is abnormal and shouldn’t be that way, and therefore we criticize ourselves,” explains Dr. Kristen Neff, professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin and author of “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.”

Neff says most people set high standards for themselves and don’t really accept the fact that being imperfect is part of the human experience. Instead, she suggests using self-criticism as personal motivation.

“If you’re kind and supportive and encouraging toward yourself, you will make changes because you care and you don’t want to continue behaviors that are harmful to you,” says Neff, who adds that we say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t even say to someone we didn’t like.

Neff offers several exercises to practice when fear, loathing, doubt or anger starts to takeover.

  • Ask yourself if you would say these things to a friend you care about.
  • Put your hand on your heart, or give yourself a squeeze or a caress.
  • Write yourself a self-compassion letter full of love, support and encouragement.

When discussing the benefits of self-compassion, Neff points to countless research and studies. She says self-compassion improves well-being and decreases stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, it strongly increases happiness and life satisfaction.

To measure your self-compassion, take the test online.

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