Talking to Ourselves with Compassion not Contempt

The Saturday Night Live script with Al Franken encouraging Michael Jordan to say special things to himself in a mirror has always struck me as weird. It turned me away from self-help anything. Syrupy sweet talk leave me feeling like a pelican covered in oil from a slick on a backwater bay.

With all that said, I picked up Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, and had a couple eureka moments. I realized, I have never had compassion toward myself. Oh I have felt sorry for myself from time to time, but I have never really had compassion toward myself. On the other hand, I feel as if I have a great deal of compassion toward others.

This combination helped me put self compassion in perspective. If asked, “What would you do if someone fell in front of you on the street”, I think I would have compassion. I would feel sorry for the person, help them up, say comforting words, and make sure they were alright.

On the other hand, what would I think if I tripped and injured myself, just walking down the street? What would I say to myself? It would pretty much be the opposite. Lack of self compassion weighs on me as I write this.

I can not see ever talking to myself as in the SNL skit “Daily Affirmation” I would, however, like to stop the nonstop running self critique. It was a revelation for me to find out some people go through life without constant self reflection, criticism, and overall negative self view. This makes me want to ask, what is your personality?

We need to have compassion toward ourselves. The Bible has ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ as the second greatest command. Love your neighbor is the part we hear most often. The hate in the world around us highlights the need of more work in that area in general. “As yourself” is the part that relates to self compassion. The compassion we should have toward our neighbor is the compassion we should have for ourselves. I would guess we all have work in this area.

Dr. Kristin Neff is an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin

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