It's a fast-growing, new kind of psychology called self-compassion. It's concerned with how kindly you view and treat yourself. And, psychologists are doing more and more research on the subject.
OTHER-COMPASSION IS NOT SELF-COMPASSION
Just because you are understanding and supportive of others does not indicate that you are also self-compassionate. In fact, research finds that those who are the most compassionate of others often score surprisingly low on how they treat themselves and frequently berate themselves for perceived failures.
How do you view yourself?
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Do you give yourself a break, accept your imperfections? If you do, you are on the path to better health, say researchers.
If you score high on tests of self-compassion, you're much more likely to experience less depression and anxiety, and be happier and more optimistic, than those who are not as kind to themselves, reports Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times.
This seems to contradict what we've heard ad nauseum from physicians and authors of self-help books, who claim willpower and self-discipline are the answers to good health -- think of topics like being overweight or not exercising enough.
Lest you think of Al Franken's character Stuart Smalley (below,left) -- and his assertion-with-feeling "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me" -- the self-compassion subject has research to support it.
Dr. Kristin Neff, described as a pioneer in the field, says: "I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren't more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they'll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be."
STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP
An associate professor of human development at the University of
Texas in Austin, Dr. Neff is the author of the book "Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind."
While self-compassion is most conducive to motivation, Dr. Neff said that many of us fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. "Feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people."
"The problem is that it's hard to unlearn habits of a lifetime," she said. "People have to actively and consciously develop the habit of self-compassion."
A SELF-COMPASSION SCALE
Dr. Neff has devised a self-compassion scale which includes 26 statements meant to determine how often people are kind to themselves and if they understand that ups and downs are just part of life.
A Huffington Post piece on self-compassion, by Randy Taran, emphasizes rethinking the Golden Rule: "It's time to take a fresh look at the Golden Rule. How about treat yourself as you would have others treat you?"
Something helpful to keep in mind, as you learn to treat yourself better, is from Dr. Rick Hansen:
NEGATIVE ATTACHES LIKE VELCRO
The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences -- which attach themselves to our minds just like Velcro. But, when it comes to positive experiences, the brain is like Teflon -- which we let slide away from our attention.
Sad-but-true, everyone tends to be biased toward the negative. Problem is, what we give our attention to grows. Therefore, if we focus on the positive and relish happy experiences, we can train our brains to attach to the good parts of life, says Hansen.
Something Randy Taran, founder of Project Happiness, wrote in her post about feelings seems particularly helpful. "Imagine feelings are like images darting across a TV," she says. "They come and go, and change so rapidly. Feelings are not who you are. They don't define you; they flow through you."