August 28, 2017
Is being kind to yourself a route to laziness and weakness or is it a pathway to self growth? This question gets a vigorous workout in the 2017 May edition of Scientific American Mind. In the article, The Self Compassion Solution, written by Marina Krakovsky we find a discussion on the merits of self compassion in modern times with an important look at the potential downside to this behavior.
As the competitive nature of society has increased in recent years, parents around the country are putting lots and lots of pressure on their children to succeed in school and on the sports field. The obvious downside to this pressure is stress and eventually anxiety and depression when the attempts are made but the demands are not met. This is a real problem in society today. From the parent's perspective, if the child is not pressured than they will fall way behind their peers and miss out on a top tier college or and athletic/academic scholarship.
After reading the article, I was moved to write this piece for all parents struggling with raising a child.
What is self compassion? According to the article, "Self compassion, at its most basic level, means treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would a friend. People who struggle with this concept, research shows, do not necessarily lack compassion toward others. Rather they hold themselves to higher standards than they would expect of anyone else."
The article goes on to state, "many people resist self compassion, fretting that being compassionate toward ourselves will make us egocentric, self indulgent or weak." Does this happen? According to the preponderance of the research, the answer is NO.
My take on this excellent article is this: success is a time centric reality. People achieve it at all different ages depending on what the end goal is. Early struggles are often the failure framework upon which the successful end product rests. To self flagellate over mistakes or failures serves no purpose but will increase one's stress level and sense of worthlessness.
Dr. Krisitin Neff, a pioneer in self compassion research, has coined three elements of self compassion. "kindness toward yourself in difficult times, paying attention to yourself in a mindful non-obsessive way, and common humanity, or the recognition that your suffering is part of the human experience rather than unique to you."
Dr. Neff's research has shown that individuals that are self compassionate are less prone to mood disorders like anxiety.
Research has also shown that when students are tested on difficult vocabulary questions, the group that was taught self compassion by being told that the test was expected to be difficult and not to be hard on themselves, fared much better when asked to study and take the test again. In essence the teachers let the individuals off the hook for the failure and allowed them to feel ok with it.
This is a critical point for parents to understand. If a child works hard and fails to meet a goal, it is our job to make it ok and let them know that it is just a step in direction of success. Persistent hard work will overcome any failure over TIME!
People that are hyper critical of self often spend too much time ruminating on negative thoughts to the detriment of future work, gains and happiness.
"Research indicates that the self-compassionate are more psychologically resilient and better able to regain emotional well being after adversity"
As parents, we have to balance praise of the work ethic against the backdrop of it is seriously ok to struggle and sometimes outright fail.
Carol Dweck has a great TED talk about the growth mindset. In one school that she visited when a child did poorly on a test, she got a score of "not yet". This is brilliant. The message to the child is keep working and you will make it. The message is loud and clear: you failed but who cares, try again until it no longer says "not yet".
This is clearly another way of fostering the beneficial self-compassion that kids need.
Spend time with your kids watching the 10 minute TED talk and discussing self compassion. It may the best thing that you do this year for them.