At the heart of our Compassionate Leadership model is the innermost circle representing self-compassion. Our model integrates evidence-based business and scientific principles with the innate intelligence of contemplative wisdom. Compassionate Leadership as developed in the model is built from the inside out. It is critical to stand in a position of authentic grounding in our truest self. Before we can effectively lead others, we must be an effective leader of our own life.
While the idea of self-compassion may sound basic and straightforward, it is perhaps the hardest thing that anyone can do. It requires continual awareness of our own pain or suffering; empathy, as opposed to judgment towards one’s self in the face of the pain and suffering; and a sense of belonging to a greater whole of all humanity. The powerful benefits emerge from regular practice to cultivate and grow your own field of self-compassion.
In 2003, Kristin Neff, PhD, wrote the first two research papers defining and measuring self-compassion. Since then, building on the foundation of her research, there has been a proliferation of research showing the efficacy of practicing self-compassion.
Greater levels of self-compassion have been shown to correlate with increased happiness, self-confidence, motivation for improvement, physical health, and life satisfaction. And on the other side of the equation, greater self-compassion levels are shown to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and shame.
Self-compassion has three important aspects: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity.
Simply defined, mindfulness is the clear, non-judgmental, awareness of our experiences in the present moment. This is the important first step to developing self-compassion because the first thing that we need to be able to do is to see clearly and recognize that we are suffering or in pain. While it may seem that when we are in pain, no special awareness is needed for us to understand the suffering, the real problem comes from our natural tendency to judge and blame ourselves for our suffering. That blaming behavior blinds us from seeing the response we need to bring to bear on our situation.
Self-kindness offsets our inclination to beat ourselves up when things go wrong. The origins of our self-criticism arise out of an evolutionary desire to keep ourselves safe, which was helpful when our threats were wild animals in pursuit of us. In today’s world of emotional threats, self-criticism is damaging and isolating, as the cascade of stress chemicals deny us of well-being, clear seeing, and creativity. Self-kindness, on the other hand, gives rise to the positive metabolic release of caregiving hormones and their emotional and physiological benefits.
Finally, recognition of our interconnectedness with other humans is what allows self-kindness to develop into active self-compassion. Recognizing our interconnectedness helps us to remember that we are all imperfect, and that we all have troubles and suffer at times in life. The isolated person feels self-pity, feeling alone in their suffering, while the connected person realizes that, as difficult as it is to acknowledge, they are suffering along with all other humans. This can make all the difference in the willingness to make the first step toward active self-compassion.
Do you worry that self-compassion is too indulgent? It really isn’t. One of our favorite articles at the Center for Compassionate Leadership, and one of the first articles that we posted to the Articles section is Dr. Neff’s article on “The Five Myths of Self-Compassion.” In that article, she clearly shows that self-compassion:
Is not a form of self-pity.
Does not mean weakness.
Will not make you complacent.
Is not narcissistic.
Is not selfish.
If you are concerned about self-compassion making you soft, then you definitely should start with this article to help understand that self-compassion is, in fact, an approach to make you stronger and more resilient.
Perhaps the most encouraging research news around self-compassion is that it is a skill that can be learned. One of our core practices to develop self-compassion is the “Note to Self” exercise. In this practice, you think of a recent situation where you have struggled, and write a note to yourself as if you were comforting a dear friend when they are suffering. Then, you can notice if the tone and love you conveyed to your “friend” matched the way you typically speak to yourself in difficult situations.
This is the first of the three circles in the Center for Compassionate Leadership model. Following our methodology for building compassion from the inside out, the next two blog posts will illuminate Compassion for Others and Compassion for the Greater Good.
We look forward to your feedback and hearing about your experiences with self-compassion.
Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash.