Insight Mind Body Talk

Why Self-Compassion Works

July 04, 2021 Jessica Warpula Schultz, LMFT Season 1 Episode 13
Insight Mind Body Talk
Why Self-Compassion Works
Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode, Jeanne and Jess talk about why we as humans, struggle with being kind to ourselves and explore the many benefits of self-compassion. Increased motivation, increased health outcomes, and even finding the right mate! Learn how to set the critical voice inside your head and lean into compassion.

Continue Learning

  • Kristin Neff, PhD
  • Brene Brown, PhD
  • Tara Brach, PhD
  • Chris Germer, PhD
  • Emotional Freedom Technique ("tapping")
    • Gary Craig
  • Bodily Maps of Emotions
    Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2014, 111 (2) 646-651; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1321664111

Produced by Jessica Warpula Schultz & Jeanne Kolker
Edited by Jessica Warpula Schultz

Music by Jason A. Schultz

Insight Mind Body Talk. Also, check out our e-courses!

[00:00:00] Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast. We're your hosts, Jessica Warpula Schultz  and Jeanne Kolker. Whether you've tried everything to feel better and something is still missing or you've already discovered the wisdom of the body.  This podcast will encourage and support you in healing old wounds, strengthening relationships, and developing your inner potential- all by accessing the mind body connection.   

Please know, while we're excited to share and grow together. This podcast is not intended to be a substitute for mental health treatment. It doesn't replace the one-on-one relationship you have with a qualified healthcare professional and is not considered psychotherapy. 

Thanks Jess. And thank you for listening. Now, let's begin a conversation about what happens when we take an integrative approach to improving our wellbeing.  Welcome to insight. Mind, body talk. My name is Jeanne [00:01:00] Kolker. I'm your host along with. Jess Warpula Schultz . And today we're going to talk about self compassion.

Self-compassion is something that comes up a lot for us in our work as therapists and also in our personal lives. I'm sure Jess, you can attest to that. I think self-compassion might be one of the key things I practice most often because I'm a human. Exactly boy, that's one of the big, common things that we talk about with self-compassion is that it is very much something that we all need that we all struggle with.

morning. I am, my husband asked what's the topic. And I said, Oh, self-compassion. And he said, Oh yeah, I go, you got any thoughts? He said, do it tell people to just. Do it for you. Oh, it's that simple? [00:02:00] Yeah. That's important, but that's us. So we're here to help people just do it to practice. It's not that it's that simple, but yes, because it's so essential.

It's so important. Yeah. So let's start at the beginning. What does that even mean? So we'll start with just the, the topic of compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin. That means to suffer with. So it's suffering with people. We often talk about having compassion for others and we're able to be with people in their suffering to understand their suffering.

And that is different from empathy. Very much, so  what is that difference between empathy and compassion will empathy. To put ourselves in someone else's shoes is a common way to discuss empathy. It's really feeling what the other person is feeling. And while that's necessary for us to gain insight into the other's experience.

. [00:03:00] When I describe empathy versus compassion, I suggest to pursue the path that compassion, because empathy actually can, at times trigger our own pain and suffering. It removes us from being present with the other person. 

Often when people have empathy for someone it's because they care about that person and they want to be of support and of assistance. And compassion allows us to do that because compassion is concern and care for that other person. It's separate from our own internal state. Now, when we talk about self compassion, that's where we take that care and concern, and we shine that light on ourselves.

That's such a nice way to describe that. Yes it's extending kindness to ourselves that we're so often ready to extend to others more often than not. And, I think especially for cultural conditioning aspects, caregivers, they often shine their light on [00:04:00] others around them. And what.

Compassion self-compassion asks us to do is to utilize that skill, that strength, and also bring it towards our suffering and towards our experiences and be there for ourselves just as much, which is hard to do because we're conditioned to,  to focus on others. So often people think self-compassion, that's selfish.

That's. That's about me and it shouldn't be about me. We're learning so much about this in the last few years that shows that self-compassion is actually really beneficial for our mental, physical, emotional health. It's not a selfish thing. It doesn't mean that we're narcissists. It means that we're able to hold ourselves in loving.

Awareness. And I've studied a lot of Kristin Neff's work. You may have heard of her as well. She asked them, [00:05:00] she is, I did a, the core skills training with her and Chris Germer. In 2008, they came to Madison and they have this program on mindful self-compassion and they're both PhDs, With all sorts of experience.

And Kristin Neff has really focused her career on researching self-compassion and the benefits of self-compassion and there's real science behind this. That it's a good thing for us. Some of the research talks about how self-compassion is linked to a reduction in negative. Mind States like anxiety and depression, which we see so much of in our work, it's linked to an increase in positive mind States like happiness, connectedness, optimism, who doesn't want more of that.

It helps us to be more effective at coping with adversity, more resilient protects us against post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic health conditions. And it [00:06:00] helps us to be more self-motivated it helps us to get more done when we don't beat ourselves up. So there's actual research that supports this, that it's not something that's just selfish.

I love that the research exists because it really helps debunk this myth that self-compassion isn't useful. We were in a culture where criticism runs the show that we're hard on ourselves, that we judge ourselves, that we judge others. And we've learned through time that. That doesn't work nearly as well as this befriending and this care and compassion towards yourself.

Compassion is so important in that. It even helps us speed up recovery from disease research shows that it can even lengthen our lifespans and that, even going to who we pick as our mate there's studies that [00:07:00] look at the trait that's most highly valued in our potential romantic partner.

And it suggests. That most people agree that kindness is one of the most highly desirable traits. It's in our internal relationship as well as our external, our mental or physical it's everywhere. That's really fascinating. Isn't it? Yeah.  And when you think about it, think about the people that you gravitate towards and that you feel safe with.

And if you could rate  one to 10, their kindness, their level of kindness. That's so funny because yesterday I was just having a conversation with some colleagues and we were talking about. Cobra, Kai, Johnny and Daniel, one of our favorite topics here. And, the consensus was, man, we liked Johnny.

We liked the bad boy, but who do we want to choose in our lives? We want to choose somebody who is kind, not that Johnny's not kind, [00:08:00] but then it also got me thinking about, Dylan and Brandon, and 90210. Didn't everybody want Dylan. And when we were teenagers, eyebrow with the lines.

I know the bad boy, right? Brandon Kelly was choosing Dylan again and now I know. And then and then my colleague pointed out to me, cause I said, Oh, I, I liked Dylan a lot. I was team Dylan. And she said but you married Brandon. It's true. I married the nicest. Man in the world. And it goes back to that research that you just, that just reminded me of that it is one of the most highly desirable traits. I agree. And I'm just going to defend Dylan and Johnny and the bad boys for one moment, because we understand childhood trauma. Yes. It would only hurt people, hurt people. And you know what Dylan was pretty darn kind, especially he was very, he had a lot of [00:09:00] childhood wounds and stuff.

Seoul. That was so cool. Stay tuned for an episode on 90210. I know, I was wondering what show we would go  towards next, and this is a perfect fit. Cause I think I've seen like every episode of 90210. I absolutely have but back to our topic of compassion, let's talk about how it impacts our mental health.

 When I talk about self-compassion with clients and it comes up in the context of our mental health, one of the ways I first begin is describing the second arrow. The Buddha discusses the second arrow and that as humans, we experience pain, we experienced suffering.

And that's the first arrow that wound. And the second arrow is when we don't offer ourselves that compassion when we're critical or judgmental,  the second arrow is one that we bring upon ourselves.   [00:10:00] That arrow goes straight into the first one and it hits that same wound again,  often we experienced something that was traumatic or hard for us and our thoughts or behaviors or beliefs, just keep that wound alive and self-compassion can stop that, or at least slow that down when we can turn towards ourselves with love and forgiveness. We eliminate that second arrow.

And I think that's a really helpful explanation though, or metaphor for suffering and for what we can do to eliminate that second arrow. It fits perfectly with the tenants of mindful self-compassion, which is the program that Kristin Neff and Chris Germer have created, of course, based on these Eastern contemplative practices, mindfulness versus identifying with our.

With ourselves, essentially, as one of the core tenants of that, which has to do with, just being aware [00:11:00] that we've we continue to twist that second arrow just as humans. We do that. And that's another one of the tenants, common humanity versus isolation. This is something that we all experience.

All humans suffer. Suffering is inevitable. Another one of Buddha's gems, first noble truth. I like how you bring up the humanity of it all. That's one of the ways I practice self compassion most is this trust that I'm human and that I'm going to make mistakes. That I've had experiences that have shaped how I react or what choices I make.

And along the way, I've hurt people as much as I've been hurt. And. Choosing to bring self compassion and honor that I'm imperfect and that I'm human. Not that I'm not growing through

just honoring that I'm human and allowing myself that space and that forgiveness, [00:12:00] because I can't control if other people forgive me. But I can control if I forgive myself. And that's the third tenant of mindful self compassion is that self-kindness versus self-judgment. Cause I heard in there that, you're ready to judge yourself.

We're all ready to judge ourselves, but if we can offer self kindness, more understanding when we're suffering, then you know, we're able to really. Change our relationship with that suffering. And that's what this is really all about. It's not just erasing the pain. It's about changing our relationship to the pain so that we can be in the same room with it, be able to tolerate it, allow it maybe eventually be friends with it.

I think before I've heard you say, feel it in order to heal it, right? Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. There's a whole body centered component to this. Of course. Maybe you want to tell us a little bit about the neurobiology? Yeah, let's talk about the neurology.

I love sharing this [00:13:00] fact  when we think about empathy and we think about compassion, as I mentioned before, empathy is feeling what the other person is feeling. And yes, we do need some empathy because there is suffering in the world and we need to honor that other people are suffering in order to serve and help.

But  empathy only goes so far.  Often I meet people who feel burnt out because they care so much, even they're so empathetic that we want to have some empathy, but then we want to transition to compassion because when we experience empathy, research shows that it lights up pain sensors.

In our brain pain sensors, because we truly are feeling what that other person is feeling. Now, when we have compassion, when we have that mindful separation, where our internal state can remain regulated, and yet we can offer care and concern for someone else that lights up pleasure centers in our [00:14:00] brain.

And that's. That's why we, you know what, it's almost as a misnomer to talk about compassion, fatigue, because those of us in the helping professions, we're really experiencing that empathy, fatigue. Exactly. Exactly. Because if you think about it, if you feel their pain, your brain will register pain, the body and the brain.

Just like  if we feel for someone so deeply. Can freeze us. It can shut us down. I heard Mare Chapman once give a story like this, which was really helpful for me to think about empathy versus compassion.

If you're on a hike with your BFF and you're out in the woods and they trip and fall and they break their leg and you're like two miles from your car, the empathetic response would be, I should feel what you're feeling. I will break my leg too. And that will help you then would be on this path. Not both with broken legs, but if you have [00:15:00] compassion, you can see, Oh my gosh, I see you suffering.

What can I do to help? All right. I can carry you or I can make some sort of stick cast. You, I would not try to use branches, but I would try and support that person  or a call nine one one and have someone cook down the path. But I can't do any of that. If I'm literally in pain. If I break my own leg, how helpful am I right to that person?

So the compassion. Allows us to stay grounded in ourselves yet take action  And support that person.  We don't get lost in those pain sensors. And we can see how that's analogous with our self-compassion right. We have to be really kind to ourselves when we're suffering.

We can't just continue to just bathe ourselves in that pain. That's going to be human. The human condition, we can really identify with that pain and attached to it. But if we are able to show ourselves kindness, when we're in pain, [00:16:00] we're going to move through or are going to change our relationship.

And we're going to have just a lot more awareness of what's happening too. That's where this mindful self-compassion thing I think is really powerful is it gives us some tools to work with really difficult emotions. And we've had a lot of opportunities to work with those difficult emotions, especially in the past year.

So what mindful self-compassion would tell us to do is to identify, we have to label those emotions. How do we do that through mindfulness, through being aware of our own experience, then here's the key for you. And I is to become aware of them in the body. Yeah, where do we find these emotions in the body only then can we start to soften in our physiology, sooth ourselves, and then just allow.

That process, that pain to dissipate. And this I think is really fascinating too that there's been research on where emotions are felt in our [00:17:00] bodies. You and I both understand this when you feel, a swell of love for someone in your life, where do you feel that? If I. Consider seeing someone I care about, I guess I feel it more so all over and full body experience. I was like crash one place in particular, but I do. I feel you almost come alive in a way. It does feel. Electrifying at times, especially if it's like a surprise, someone you haven't seen in a while, which we're all experiencing now that DEMEC is slowly phasing out  

and when you feel shame, Where do you feel? Shame? My gut. Oh. And. And what's interesting is I've always, whenever I feel shame or embarrassment, I flashed my face flushes right away. You could always tell if I thought you were cute  or I'm impressed by you.

  I'll get really shy or my face will flush. Yeah. That's so fast. We're shamed. If I think I did something wrong [00:18:00] immediately. Yup. And that's where the research is really showing that is just common. So it was a 2014 study that I like to quote and to use in my trainings.

And we can put a link to it in the show notes that shows where it was a broad range of people. They did these heat maps of their body, see where emotions were felt. And if I want to ask you that, as you can expect anger, When you see the shape of a body, that's angry. It is, it's like a hot head.

It's like hot red head throat chest, where is right. Just an inside out like that little character in that movie. He's just like on fire, yes. Discussed the heat map shows. It's mostly like our bellies, our guts and our throat. It's like something that we're rejecting a love. Can really see like a warmth across the heart region and then shame just like you described bright red cheeks.

Oh my [00:19:00] gosh. I know. It's so fascinating. We'll have the link and yeah. That's something that, how great that we're doing research on this, first of all, phenomenal,  if it's in the body, that means that we can work on healing. It, that this isn't just something that we can talk our way out of.

We can have this awareness of what's happening in our bodies and then start to offer compassion. Soothing and an openness. We can start to open to our experience in a way that helps us to practice this day in and day out. When it's in the body, we can work with that. Agreed, you know, compassionate.

And I think about our physical health response, I go back to another research study, where they looked at a compassionate lifestyle, someone who chooses to offer compassion towards themselves and also others, the way they navigate the world has that lens of forgiveness and understanding. And it shows that it's.

[00:20:00] Really a wonderful buffer for stress. , who doesn't want to feel less stressed,  using compassion  people who live through a compassionate lifestyle, , not only does it predict 

that they live longer, and not just long life, but  until the day you die or there's less disease, less inflammation, less suffering, or more knees that their longevity is higher than those who don't live a compassionate lifestyle.   Research shows that when people  live a compassionate lifestyle who treat themselves kindly, rather than critically, they are more likely to believe that they can improve, that they can correct mistakes that they can re-engage with their goals 

it really helps us fight against that self judgment, that procrastination that follows, that stress, the rumination, all of those things stop us in our tracks and stop us from [00:21:00] growing. 

And, we were talking before, too, about how we tend to think that we need to motivate ourselves with punishment, if being hard on ourselves, it was gonna work. It would have worked by now, right? Most of us have a few decades of that experience under our belts. So why don't we try something different?

Why don't we try being kind to ourselves? It doesn't mean that we're going to just let everything go. In fact, the research shows that it actually motivates us more. I'm glad you brought that up. I talk a lot about that with clients who are trying to make lifestyle changes or movement changes, or really have any defined goal.

And maybe this has been a goal they've tried to reach multiple different times in their life. And with that follows perhaps shame or self judgment or criticism. I honor right away. That we live in a culture that thinks criticism is how we achieve a goal. So when I suggest self-compassion right, people are like [00:22:00] I said, promise, it doesn't mean you have to give up on yourself.

I promise it doesn't. But if we think about it, you're going back to the neurological response to criticism. It's a threat, right? Back in the day we criticize ourselves don't go near the edge of that cliff. You learned what happened last time? So our systems have started to align criticism with a threat.

What happens when we experience threat? We go into a threat response. We freeze or we flee, or we shut down and. Compassion is the antidote to those responses when we're compassionate towards each other, we can bring yourselves more into that ventral vehicle, place of safety, of regulation, of feeling calm, feeling kind, and that does create more space that does help the growth mindset.

It's so powerful, that [00:23:00] stress response is so deeply ingrained. And again, that's where that common humanity comes in. Our ancestors had a really highly developed stress response system. Yes. Because that's why we're here today because they understood fear and they ran away from threats and. Live to tell the tale.

So we are now like, still in that cycle of stress response. And then that sets off this cascade of negative things in our bodies where we're flooded with stress hormones, and that leads to disease. And it's because we've got that critical, fearful voice. If we can start to rewire it, even just starting with a little kindness toward ourselves.

Yeah. What's the harm, there's a lot of good that can come from that. Why wouldn't you respond that way? Why wouldn't you feel that way? Kindness. Normalizing. It's hard to be human. [00:24:00] We're of the nature to experience suffering. And yet, how can we honor that and then be gentle with it? And. The fact that compassion, again, lights up those pleasure sensors in our brain.

We're built to do this. It's a survival response. We want to be compassionate because not only does it help our physical and mental health, it actually helps. Everybody. Because it's contagious too. Compassion is contagious. It's you know, when you see those people who pay for the coffee for the car behind them, and it lasts like an hour and a half.

Yeah. Meaningful, like to feel compassion and . Yes, it's good for all of us. Yeah, we need to practice random acts of kindness for ourselves too, and of course this doesn't mean this is not a selfish thing. It doesn't mean that we, treat ourselves to something that might be detrimental.

It means that we are greeting ourselves as we would a friend [00:25:00] we're giving ourselves a little gifts. Along the way. So maybe that means taking a 10 minute meditation break, which is, one of my go tos, maybe it means getting on the yoga mat just to be in the body, having a dance party in the kitchen.

That's what, yes. Yes, you're right. . Compassion is about meeting ourselves where we're at. And allowing ourselves to set down that as Brene Brown talks about that shield of  perfectionism, and just allowing yourselves to be.  I'll take a break. We'll just put my hand on my heart or on my arm,  soothing rubbing my arm compassionate touch. And I've started after hearing Mary Chapman explain this. I've started practicing saying out loud to myself. I'm sorry.

This is so hard for you. And just the idea of that. My ears here, I'm sorry. This is [00:26:00] so hard for you because self compassion, when we talk about the hormones that it creates oxytocin and dopamine, when we offer others compassion, those actually happen when we offer ourself compassion as well.

So to allow my system to hear that someone which is. MI cares that this is hard, not excusing in a way, not trying to make sense of it, but just honoring. Like, why wouldn't you feel this way? I'm sorry. This is so hard for you and even creating a meditation around that for a few minutes and deep breathing can really shift and create that compassion.

Absolutely. Those are many of the tools that , have been studied for mindful. Self-compassion the soothing touch activities. One that I often do with my clients affectionate breathing meditation of just allowing our breath to, to rock us, to suit us. Can be very powerful. [00:27:00] I also really enjoy tapping.

I know we probably haven't talked too much about tapping the emotional freedom technique. I enjoy doing tapping, stay tuned for more on that. So does Emily on her staff? It was one of her and the insight talks episode, which everyone, I hope you tuned in. She discussed tapping as well as how it's a wonderful resource for her.

Yeah. There's a lot there.  When I was working with Annie Forest, Who was on our podcast a few weeks ago, she created for me a parasympathetic, workout , how to calm my system and be present for myself.

 Things like red light therapy that warmth, and feeling that slow down my nervous system.

And I was doing different things. She calls it coat sleeves, where you stand, imagine your kindergartner and you took your arms inside your winter day. Okay. And you flap your sleeves back into coat sleeves. Yeah. While you're waiting in line, that can be really regulating [00:28:00] mixed in with some other neurological drills that just are really soothing.

And then that creates space for just being present with those emotions and offering that compassion. So I sometimes like to pair that to that body work with that mindfulness work. Oh, I think that's the key, we've been doing a group here at Insight on self-compassion using yoga and mindfulness tools and it's so powerful.

These are tools that are so accessible to anyone, whether, they're active or whether, they. Can be practiced, on the floor in bed anywhere really. And it's something that can help us just shift. Like you're talking about just that shift in our physiology and our nervous system and a shift toward more kindness toward ourselves.

We all have that inner critic. And that's, that is that self judgment, that, that voice that we get to really identify. And we have the ability then to [00:29:00] flip the script to really change that to a more compassionate voice, a compassionate witness to our experience. And that's really what we're looking for.

We're looking for that soothing, and we can do that ourselves. It's so empowering. It is, yeah, it's just like the sign we have at Insight,  "kindness matters".

Got the displayed for the whole street to see, because it does, it's what this all comes down to. When we can hold ourselves in kindness, we can really start to see shifts. 

I read a quote recently from Tara Brock She's a meditation teacher, also a psychologist and she described that palliative care givers often say that the greatest regret expressed by the dying is that they didn't live true to themselves and she believes to live true. We need to awaken this self compassion and love ourselves into healing. That's beautiful.

[00:30:00] I just felt that all over my body. I'd love to see that heat map. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. So much here. It's a wonderful topic. And we're going to have more resources on our website for listeners. If they're interested in cultivating, self-compassion exploring what that means for them. 

check us out so much. Jess, this has been a wonderful conversation today. I'm feeling lots of kindness for all beings, including myself. Good. Thank you, Jeannie. I really appreciate hearing more about Kristin Neff's work and just a lot of the work that you do with your clients and how you incorporate self-compassion.

Into your life and into others' lives. Thanks, Jess. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you again for joining us on Insight Mind Body [00:31:00] Talk, a body-centered mental health podcast. We hope today's episode was empowering and supported you in strengthening your mind-body connection We're your hosts Jeanne and Jess. Please join us again next week as we continue to explore integrative approaches to wellbeing. Until then, take care.