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Mindful Self-Compassion: Class Helps Students Calm Their Inner Critics

November 18, 2016
Group of people with illustrated thought bubbles describing mindfulness, including spending time in nature, positive thinking, happiness, walking a dog, bathing, meditating

“A Native American wisdom story tells of an old Cherokee man who is teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy. ‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’ The old man simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’” – Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

Kristin Neff, PhD, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of self-compassion, visited the Center for Spirituality & Healing as a Wellbeing Lecture Series speaker in 2014. Her innovative work — encompassing more than a decade’s worth of research and measurement — aligned closely with the Center’s focus on wellbeing, and also with its flourishing mindfulness program.

When Neff began offering Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Training, Jean Haley and Jean Fagerstrom, two of the Center’s veteran mindfulness teachers, quickly enrolled.

This winter, as the Center begins offering its third iteration of “Mindful Self-Compassion,” students are already seeing the value of this important skill set.

“If people spent more time practicing self-compassion, they would be more capable of showing compassion to others,” says Susan Diekman, a student in the first course and the Communications Director in the University’s Office of Human Resources.

While many people feel compassion when a close friend is struggling, providing that same level of kindness and care to oneself is often not a priority. “Self-criticism is not a great motivator,” says Haley. “It’s just not at all helpful.”

Students focus on three main components throughout the 8-week class, which include self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation, and mindfulness vs. over-identification.

These techniques have helped Diekman face stressful situations in ways that are more effective, “By meditating, and accepting, and being in the present moment you actually can move more gracefully through stress,” she says. “My life circumstances didn’t change, but the way I handled stress did.”

Mindful Self-Compassion is a complement to the Center’s expanding Mindfulness program.

“Mindful Self-Compassion is a great addition to our currently offered community classes, because it, too, is designed to enhance wellbeing and resiliency,” says Sue Nankivell, Director of Business Development and Community Relations at the Center.

Fagerstrom agrees, and encourages students to consider Mindful Self-Compassion as a precursor or extension of other Center Mindfulness programs. “It’s a stand-alone course, but can also be taken before or after MBSR.”

Diekman also spoke to the wellbeing and resiliency benefits that come from the class. “By its very nature, self-compassion fosters deep and meaningful reflection and conversation. And then you start to carry some of that into your life,” she says.

Haley describes her favorite part of the class as being able to visibly see students practicing self-compassion during classes.

“I love seeing how vulnerable people are willing to be,” she says. “We deal with some pretty deep stuff, and people step up in the way that is kindest to themselves. People take care of themselves Fagerstrom agrees. “When people share what they’re learning, its gratifying because you learn that this work really makes a difference,” she says.

The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, founded by Neff and Christopher K. Germer, PhD, in 2012, conducted a randomized controlled trial, which demonstrated that mindful self-compassion significantly increased self-compassion, compassion for others, mindfulness, and life satisfaction, as well as decreased depression, anxiety and stress.

“Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities,” says Neff. +++

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