The subject of narcissism has received much attention in part due to psychological literature and recent studies showing that the path to self-esteem from the last several decades actually has led to narcissism and has not created resilience. Self-esteem relies more on positive self-evaluations and often is based on comparing oneself with others in order to increase one’s perceived self-worth. Self-esteem requires that I feel better than others or even better than most. Self-esteem is contingent on success.
By comparison, self-compassion works in quite the opposite way. It is not strictly based on self-evaluations and comparing oneself with others, but is rather based on the realization that we are all connected and part of mankind, as well as on the awareness that failure and setbacks are part of normal life.
A common myth says that in order to be motivated you must be self-critical. However, a more encouraging stance actually helps us to learn from failure.
"Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism," write Profs. Neff and Germer who have studied and written extensively on compassion. As Neff said in an interview with The Atlantic in 2016: "When we fail, it's not 'poor me,' it's 'well, everyone fails.' Everyone struggles. This is what it means to be human."
There's some work on physical health, showing that self-compassion is linked to better immune function. Studies show that it stabilizes glucose levels and improves depression in diabetes patients, another study says it's associated with longer telomeres, which has shown to add to longevity. (also from the Atlantic article) Self-compassion helps you be motivated, it helps you take responsibility. It's not self-indulgent, it's not selfish, and it leads to better relationships. I find it's quite remarkable how much research there is supporting these ideas.
According to the researchers, practicing self-compassion techniques for 40 minutes every day for 8 weeks raised the participants' levels of self-compassion by 43 percent.
Let’s talk a little bit about what elements are active in True Compassion.
3 German Scientists published their work in 2015 studying 16,000 volunteers globe-wide showing that those with higher levels of self-compassion had higher levels of well-being. Their definition of self-compassion had 3 components
- An understanding behavior toward oneself in the face of suffering.
- The balanced awareness of negative thoughts and feelings rather than their over identification.
- The perception and classification of one’s experiences as part of mankind rather than an interpretation that is separate from others.”
Another study just published in May 2018 from the University of Wisconsin states that compassion is connecting with the suffering (of others and oneself) and a genuine wish for freedom of suffering. The connection requires the courage to see the suffering rather than avoidance or denial. "Compassion meditation may shift habits of becoming overly distressed when we encounter another's pain," says Helen Weng, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds and senior author of the study said, "The pattern of these findings -- an increase in looking at suffering while simultaneously down-regulating neural circuits associated with negative emotion -- is a winning combination.”
This is put in perspective by another statement from Davidson. He says that training your brain to pay attention to compassion would be a giant step toward a better, more enjoyable life. When you aren’t doing anything in particular, but are just at rest, your brains’ so-called default mode kicks in. This baseline mental state often leads to negative rumination that tends to be, as Davidson puts it, “all about my, me, and mine”.
In the practice of the Art of Ascension, the Compassion technique is taught in the beginner’s workshop. A great aspect of this tool is that it can be used all day long when you are going about your active life. So, Compassion can be cultivated whenever and wherever you are.