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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Self-Compassion: Being Kind to Ourselves

Conscious aging offers us seniors the opportunity to look at all our relationships and to heal, forgive, and extend compassion to others and ourselves. In fact, recent research strongly suggests that if we give ourselves a break and accept our imperfections, it may help us to be healthier. Several studies have shown that people who score high on tests of self-compassion tend to be happier and more optimistic.

But, let’s be clear about one thing: self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence; it is not a matter of lowering one’s standards.

Jean Fain, a psychologist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School, states, “Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet. Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation, and neglect, while the best proven weight-loss methods are self-love, mindfulness, and group support.” Dr. Fain suggests that people begin their diets by loving who they are because self-compassion is a more effective motivator than self-criticism.

Another pioneer in the study of willpower and self-discipline, Kristin Neff, is an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Neff agrees with Dr. Fain. In her own research she has found, “The biggest reason people aren’t kinder to themselves is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent; they think that self-criticism keeps them in line. They have gotten it wrong because our culture says that being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Both doctors believe that as we age, we can live more deeply through self-compassion and grow wiser in doing so.

You may want to read Jean Fain’s book, The Self-Compassion Diet or Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.

~Laraine Jablon

Laraine Jablon, BA, MA, is a writer specializing in social and health concerns of seniors. She lives in Nesconset, New York, and welcomes your thoughts.