On Self-Compassion and Shame


You may know that the groundbreaking work of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer brought structured, evidence-based practices in self-compassion to the mainstream. If you're interested, Chris Germer is offering a training September 13th and 20th that you can learn more about here. Self-compassion is the antidote to many of our woes, and if you find the idea of compassionate holds (in the video above) weird and uncomfortable, that likely means you could use more self-compassion!


You can learn more about Neff and Germer's research, their Self-Compassion Scale, and their programs here.


When I spoke with Shaun Maslysk of The Most-Hated F-Word podcast a few weeks ago (here's the episode), we spoke a lot about self-compassion and how it's a source of your compassion for others. It's a shortcut in that if you can have compassion for yourself, it's easy to have compassion—to demonstrate compassion—for others. If you find yourself judgmental and critical of others, first, forgive yourself and heap some compassion on yourself, and then, make that self-forgiveness and self-compassion a habit.


Start With You!

The most important beneficiary of your open heart and easeful love should be yourself. If you don't think you can ever do anything right or well, and you're always judging and criticizing yourself, it's going to be difficult to be genuinely compassionate to others. On the other hand, if love and forgiveness for yourself are easeful, they flow to others, as well, as you've got the tough part (you) covered.


Fortunately, the benefits keep coming, as self-compassion helps when emotions arise that you judge yourself for or have assessed as negative. And there's so much more. Just like with the mudita practice, you're creating a brain that predicts something different, and that something different helps you and those around you because what you're doing positions you to be more open and helpful.


Working With Shame

Shame and self-hatred are remarkably common, and not all shame is negative as it can be part of healthy socialization and enculturation. Toxic shame is a different story as it affects identity, thoughts, the body, and relationships. This kind of shame surfaces in the words people use about themselves as well as their body language and their actions. If there's anything to learn from the cross-cultural study of emotions , however, it's that we aren't good at "diagnosing" the emotional states of others, so we should stop trying. Instead, all we really need to do is ask. What are you feeling right now? What's here for you right now?


Although shame can look like making oneself smaller, not everyone who does that is experiencing shame and not everyone experiencing shame makes themselves smaller. The language of regret and self-disdain, wrapped in an inability to forgive oneself and/or thinking one is defective, is frequently shame.


In mindfulness, we don't spend a lot of time with our Why stories. Instead, we notice whatever is present. And if it's shame, we are first fully present with it. What is it like? We don't immediately pivot, but we also don't drown in the thoughts and feelings. As with rumination, we can do some self-distancing by first admitting, "That's just a thought," and we can observe as our sensations fade away. We can also act like a fly on the wall, describing ourselves in the third person, and watch as the sensations and stories fade away. In addition (or instead, experiment!) we can drench ourselves in self-compassion, including holding ourselves.


This is another way we resource ourselves. When our nervous systems are regulated and we are stable and grounded, we are available to help others.


You're doing the best you can. Give yourself a break.

mm