Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?
That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.
But it’s time to give yourself a break and work on self compassion. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.
Kristin Neff, a University of Texas psychologist, is the author of “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” Dr. Neff has developed a self-compassion scale to help people measure their own levels of compassion for themselves. Take this mini-test to see if you are hard on yourself or more likely to give yourself a break. Use a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “less likely to feel that way” and 5 being “very likely to feel that way.”
- I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.
- When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong.
- When I fail at something important to me I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy.
- When times are really difficult, I tend to be tough on myself.
- When I see aspects of myself that I don’t like, I get down on myself.
- When things are going badly for me, I see the difficulties as part of life that everyone goes through.
- When something upsets me I try to keep my emotions in balance.
- When something painful happens I try to take a balanced view of the situation.
- When I fail at something important to me I try to keep things in perspective.
- I’m tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies.
It’s pretty obvious that if you score high on the first five questions and low on the rest, you are pretty tough on yourself. If your higher scores were in questions six to 10, then you are doing a pretty good job of practicing self compassion.
For those low on the self-compassion scale, Dr. Neff suggests a set of exercises — like writing yourself a letter of support, just as you might to a friend you are concerned about. Listing your best and worst traits, reminding yourself that nobody is perfect and thinking of steps you might take to help you feel better about yourself are also recommended.
Other exercises include meditation and “compassion breaks,” which involve repeating mantras like “I’m going to be kind to myself in this moment.”
Dr. Neff reminds us that it takes practice to be nice to yourself.
“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.”