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To Recover from Failure, Try Some Self-Compassion

Discussion in 'Psychiatry' started by Ghada Ali youssef, Jan 29, 2017.

  1. Ghada Ali youssef

    Ghada Ali youssef Golden Member

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    If a good friend tells you about an ordeal they’re facing or a mistake they’ve made, how do you typically respond? In all likelihood, you offer kindness and comfort, perhaps speaking in a warm and soothing tone, and maybe offering a hug to show how much you care.

    When your friend recovers and the conversation continues, chances are that you’ll expand your support by encouraging your friend to take necessary action or try to discover how to steer clear of similar difficulties.

    Now reflect for a moment on how you treat yourself when you make a big mistake or experience a setback. It’s likely that you’re much tougher on yourself — that you spring to self-criticism (“I’m such an idiot!”), hide in embarrassment or shame (“Ugh!”), or ruminate for a long time on your perceived shortcomings or bad luck (“Why did this happen to me?”). When things go wrong in our lives, we tend to become our own worst enemy.

    To recover emotionally and get back on your feet, here’s an approach you can take: self-compassion.

    I’ve been working with mindfulness in my psychotherapy practice for over 30 years. It is a powerful resource that helps people stay present and focused on the task at hand. I’ve come to realize, however, that a component of mindfulness that is essential for emotional resilience is often overlooked. In particular, when we fail in a big way, we’re likely to become engulfed in shame, and our sense of self is dismantled. We all know what this feels like: We’re unable to think straight, temporarily suspended in time and place, dislocated from our bodies, and uncertain who we really are. Shame has a way of wiping out the very observer who is needed to be mindful of our situation.

    What does it take to rescue yourself and begin to address the situation effectively? You need to treat yourself with the same kindness and support that you’d provide for a friend.

    There is a substantial and growing body of research that shows that self-compassion is closely associated with emotional resilience, including the ability to soothe ourselves, recognize our mistakes, learn from them, and motivate ourselves to succeed. Self-compassion is consistently correlated with a wide range of measures of emotional well-being, such as optimism, life satisfaction, autonomy, and wisdom, as well as with reduced levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and shame.

    To achieve these benefits, self-compassion must include three components, according to my colleague and pioneering self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff:

    • Mindfulness. Awareness of what’s going on in the present moment. To be kind to ourselves, we need to know that we’re struggling while we’re struggling. It helps to name the emotions we’re feeling in tricky situations and to ground ourselves in the here and now (sensations, sounds, sights). These are all skills associated with mindfulness that make space for a compassionate response.
    • Common humanity. Knowing we’re not alone. Most of us tend to hide in shame when things go really wrong in our lives, or we hide from ourselves through distraction or with a few stiff drinks. The antidote is recognizing our common humanity — understanding that many others would feel the same way in similar situations and that we’re not the only ones who suffer in life.
    • Self-kindness. A kind and warm-hearted response to ourselves. This can take many forms, such as a gentle hand over the heart, validating how we feel, talking to ourselves in an encouraging manner, or a simple act of kindness such as drinking a cup of tea or listening to music.
    When we feel threatened, our nervous system is awash in adrenaline and goes into overdrive; when we’re in this state, showing ourselves care and kindness is usually the last thing we’re inclined to do. When we experience positive, warm connections, however, our system releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that downregulates the effects of adrenaline.

    Taking a mindful pause and then bringing kindness to ourselves seems to activate our innate caregiving system and the calming effect of oxytocin, allowing the mind to clear and giving us a chance to take rational steps to resolve the issue.

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