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Ep. 153: Kristin Neff, PhD - Self-Compassion: The Science of Being Nice to Yourself

June 15, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 153
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 153: Kristin Neff, PhD - Self-Compassion: The Science of Being Nice to Yourself
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 153: Kristin Neff, PhD - Self-Compassion: The Science of Being Nice to Yourself
Jun 15, 2021 Season 1 Episode 153
Sucheta Kamath

“You stupid idiot!” Most of us in the civilized world would refrain from using such hurtful and aggressive language when addressing others. However, if someone were to be a fly on our mind’s wall and hear the things we say to ourselves, they might be horrified. When individuals face challenges, encounter failures, and make fools of themselves, the harsh and judgmental critic within gets cracking with self-flagellation. However, a learned alternative is to extend self-compassion, which is less about judging yourself positively - when undeserving and more about relating to yourself kindly. 

On this episode, one the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, author, and Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Kristin Neff,  discusses what self-compassion is, the wide-ranging benefits of engaging in self-compassion, and how self-compassion motivates individuals to improve personal weaknesses while diminishing our tendency to engage in social comparisons. Executive Function skills, when mastered, help create a playbook for personal success and that playbook is incomplete without the teachings from the science of being nice to one's self. 

About Kristin Neff, PhD
Kristin Neff is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion nearly twenty years ago. In addition to writing numerous academic articles and book chapters on the topic, she is author of the book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. In conjunction with her colleague Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an empirically supported training program called Mindful Self-Compassion, which is taught by thousands of teachers worldwide. They co-authored the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals. Her newest work focuses on how to balance self-acceptance with the courage to make needed change. In June 2021, she will publish Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive.

For more information on self-compassion, including a self-compassion test, research articles, and practices, go to www.self-compassion.org.

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

“You stupid idiot!” Most of us in the civilized world would refrain from using such hurtful and aggressive language when addressing others. However, if someone were to be a fly on our mind’s wall and hear the things we say to ourselves, they might be horrified. When individuals face challenges, encounter failures, and make fools of themselves, the harsh and judgmental critic within gets cracking with self-flagellation. However, a learned alternative is to extend self-compassion, which is less about judging yourself positively - when undeserving and more about relating to yourself kindly. 

On this episode, one the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, author, and Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Kristin Neff,  discusses what self-compassion is, the wide-ranging benefits of engaging in self-compassion, and how self-compassion motivates individuals to improve personal weaknesses while diminishing our tendency to engage in social comparisons. Executive Function skills, when mastered, help create a playbook for personal success and that playbook is incomplete without the teachings from the science of being nice to one's self. 

About Kristin Neff, PhD
Kristin Neff is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion nearly twenty years ago. In addition to writing numerous academic articles and book chapters on the topic, she is author of the book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. In conjunction with her colleague Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an empirically supported training program called Mindful Self-Compassion, which is taught by thousands of teachers worldwide. They co-authored the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals. Her newest work focuses on how to balance self-acceptance with the courage to make needed change. In June 2021, she will publish Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive.

For more information on self-compassion, including a self-compassion test, research articles, and practices, go to www.self-compassion.org.

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

 Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. This podcast is fueled by three goals, one to explain what executive function is and the role of prefrontal lobes in self-actualization by translating the research findings from neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and many, many other fields in a meaningful way, so that people can actually appreciate the complexity of it. Number two is to help connect the plight of the current self with the vision of the future self. And the third goal is to help people create a playbook for personal success by mastering executive function with all the tools that our incredible guests bring. One such barrier today we're going to talk about is if you want to better yourself as something more encouraging needs to come from within. And however, who's sitting inside, there's a highly critical person sitting inside and there's a self-critical internal dialogue such as you're stupid, you're an idiot, you will never amount to anything, what's wrong with you? And that's pretty much my one-line summary is what's wrong with you. So, we need to really rethink if this is the right way to bring upon change. And are we making that tone, you know, are tuning out that sound? And is it really tuning down or tuning out the sound or reprogramming the tape recorder. And that's why it's so critical to understand the research that my guest is going to present and welcome. This is Dr. Kristen Neff. She is a currently an associate professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion nearly 20 years ago. And this is really important to understand people, if you ask your grandmother that she probably will say yes, be nice to yourself and the world. But to empirical study mean somebody has to actually measure it. So, this is not a small feat. And then, in addition to writing numerous academic articles, and books, and chapters on this topic, She's the author of the book self-compassion, the proven power of being kind to yourself. She also is as she has developed many programs, but along with Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an empirically supported training program, and that's called mindful self-compassion. And we will be linking a lot of resources that she has created for us. But this is a course I highly recommend. Lately, I've been recommending to my clients, particularly those who need a little TLC, when they're alone. And this is really valuable to be with you and Dr. Kristen alone on the computer so that you get the guided instructions that you need. And lastly, she's going to publish a fantastic new book, I can't wait to read that it's called fierce self-compassion, how women can harness kindness to speak up, claim their power and thrive. So welcome to the podcast. 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Thanks for having me. I'm so excited. 

Sucheta Kamath: And I love this, we'll talk about this fierce compassion and particularly you have addressed it to a woman so I can't wait to hear that. So, let's begin. Since our podcast is about executive function, which entails this adaptive flexibility, goal orientedness, intentional focus, and goal directed persistence, and a lot of these skills said that requires somebody to be in charge to guide the self into maybe better outcomes for the future self. So, you as a psychologist, as a researcher, but when you were younger, as a child and a young adult, when did you discover your knowledge about self or this ability to reflect upon your strengths and challenges and use specific strategies to get things done? How were you an executive function?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Well, I mean, you know, developmental, it usually happens sometime in adolescence, I think I was bad average or that I definitely as I was pretty good. For instance, at studying I was got good grades. And I think part of that probably is because of good executive function skills in terms of now I was aware when I understood something when I didn't when I had to re study something. But you know, it's funny, it wasn't really until later. I mean, I did I mean, psychology I was always kind of interested in spirituality for instance, the book Ram Dass's book, be here now was on my coffee table growing up. I love I suppose I, I was reflecting on things like mindfulness at a pretty young age. Mindfulness is a little bit different than executive function, although they're closely related. So that was probably all there. But it probably wasn't until I was older. Actually, when I until I discovered self-compassion that I really understood, not just cognitive function or executive function, you might say, but emotion regulation in terms of how you emotionally relating to yourself, and how is your emotional tenor toward yourself, changing your thoughts and behaviors. So, I mean, I, that was occurring, but I think it was an explicitly really aware of the incredible difference it makes the emotional side of things, the warmth is warm or cold, harsh, that the tent the emotional tenor of the conversation wasn't really something I discovered until later, I would say.

Sucheta Kamath: And I think it's so interesting. I love the reference that Ram Dass book was your on your coffee table. So, there was definitely a culture of pause and think about things, which can be really a very strong ingredient to promote that. And second thing, as you said, it is not a guess. It doesn't become a that doesn't come into focus until it's a problem. So, it sounds like you have had a lot of you enjoyed the benefits of your naturally developing prefrontal system that allowed you to learn as you engaged with, with the world.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: That's right. Yeah, that's right. It was it was useful, where it allowed me to get good grades and, and think, well, and all those things. But as you know, thinking is it's useful in some respects, and it causes a lot of suffering in other respects. Right, exactly. Kind of it's like, yeah, it's also it's also a problem, especially if you take everything you think really literally and really seriously.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, since we, there's so many things to talk about, there are several different aspects of your work in self compassion that I'm really looking forward to exploring. But for starters, I know, your postdoctoral work was focused on uncovering the potential downside of the quest for higher self-esteem. So, and I love this 80s movement that said, let's cultivate self-esteem in children. But we used to have discovered or rather, you came to realization that it's probably not the best idea. So, what are the pitfalls of that you haven't covered that have emerged from this areas, movement of the pursuit of high self-esteem, and how are self-esteem and self-compassion similar? And how are they different?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Right, so yeah, so there was actually a big backlash in psychology, especially social psychology against seeing self-esteem as a panacea. And first of all, just to say, what is self-esteem if you define it as an evaluation of self-worth, I'm a worthy person, I'm, you know, no good somewhere in between. And we certainly know that it's better to have high self-esteem than low self-esteem because a lot of psychopathology stems from lack of feelings of worth, right, so depression, anxiety, you know, in the extreme case, suicidal ideation. But what psychologists were discovering is a lot of the ways people get their sense of self-worth are pretty unhealthy. Right? So, the, for instance, social comparison, people have to feel special and above average, especially in American culture, need to feel special and above average, to feel good about ourselves, which means it sets up this constant social comparison, you know, is he more successful than I am, you know, she's prettier than I am, is, you know, she's smarter than I am. All those constant comparisons, as we try to feel special and above average, means that we're kind of pitting ourselves in competition with other people. So, for instance, why do why do little kids start to bully others, you know, that with relational aggression, or actually physical aggression, part of it is the quest for self-esteem, the, they're trying to feel more powerful, like the cool kid by picking on or putting others down. So that's an act that bullying behaviors, you know, continues into, continues into adulthood, it and sometimes more subtle ways, sometimes not so subtle. So that's a problem. And narcissism is also a problem that stems from the quest for high self-esteem. Some people are so invested in having high self-esteem that they start distorting reality, you know, they see themselves as superior, they can't even entertain any sort of criticism of themselves, because it'd be, you know, it'd be just too much to lose your self-esteem. So, they start distorting and starting to gaslight and all those things, which are a problem. Probably the biggest problem with self-esteem is that it's contingent, typically not always right, but it's contingent on success. Right? So, people are for women, actually, the number one domain of self-esteem in which we invest our self-esteem is appearance. So, you have high self-esteem when you look the way you want to look, and you don't have high self-esteem when you don't look the way you want to look. And because of the standards of beauty are so impossibly high for a woman sets up a lot of suffering for a woman and but also other things like approval, you know how much other people like you. It's not. It's not like how much your mother likes you, it's how much other people like you. There's really kind of poor source of information, but we put we invest a lot in that. And that also performance, right? Am I doing well, those things that are important to me, whether it's school or sports or work? So, it's kind of a fair-weather friend, right? Its self-esteem is there for you when you succeed, but what happens when you fail in those things that are important to you, your self-esteem deserves you. And so that so I was I was learning all about that in my postdoctoral studies, and I've been practicing self-compassion, which is not a judgment or an evaluation of worth, it's just, it's a way of being kind to yourself, just because you're a flawed human being, is it because it's an intrinsic, unconditional sense of self-worth, you know, all human beings are worthy of a compassionate kind response. And so, when you relate to yourself with kindness and support, if there especially when you need it, and that's when you fall flat on your face, or you get rejected, or, you know, you're feeling badly about yourself, you can say, well, okay, maybe I didn't succeed at this goal. But just because I failed doesn't mean that I am a failure. It doesn't, you know, damn my sense of worthiness as a person. And that's really where you might say it's a, it's a healthy source of self-esteem, because we have more self-compassion, you're also going to have higher self-esteem. But it's not, it's not contingent the way it is, for most people.

Sucheta Kamath: And thank you for taking the time because I think many listeners may just have these compartmental notions of things, you know, you somehow have or, or your, or you gain self-esteem by like, almost like, you know, planting seeds. It's a process of living a life where you have a relationship with your experiences, and you really showcase the difference between how we relate to success, versus how we relate to failures, and relate to them with equanimity are likely to do better. But I would just go to weave in some recently, I kind of read this interesting data about narcissism, you know, the longest study, I think they are not, they attract people between 1982 to 2009. And there is a real surge of a higher, you know, responses to questions says I think I'm a special person, I like to be the center of attention. You know, I have a natural talent for influencing people. So, they tend to boast a little bit, but one cute study, I thought was so funny was this song lyrics over time, they found that the word such as "I" "me," "mine" has significantly increased that and "we" "us", and, and "social" have gone down. So, I think, so let's talk about self-compassion. And also, maybe you can help people understand that self-compassion is not a weakness, because I think there's some warped idea that beating yourself up feels right thing to do. doesn't feel good, but feels like if I reprimand myself, I'll perform better. So where are we getting it wrong?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Right. So, I mean, there used to be the idea with a parenting as well, right? That, you know, spare the rod, spoil the child. And what we know from the parenting literature is, yeah, you might get your kid to a bay, that you can really damage that kid in many ways, psychologically, that can be harmful to their success in the long run, right? And so, we know is, you know, authoritative parenting, where you're firm, but warm, is actually the most successful type of parenting. And the same with self-compassion, right? So self-compassion isn't like just letting yourself off the hook to say, okay, that's fine. I robbed a bank. Oh, well, you know, it's not like something mushy, it's not indulgent. So, if we care about ourselves, just like a caring parent, we're going to want it, we're going to want to achieve our goals, we're going to want to work hard. You know, we're going to want to learn from our mistakes, we're going to want to grow, we're going to stop, you know, we're going to want to change unhealthy behaviors. But we do it, because we care not because we feel we're inadequate as we are. So, you know, it's like the motivation of care as opposed to the motivation of fear. And the research is very clear that it's more effective, right? We have less fear of failure, if you know that it's okay, if you fail, because it doesn't damn you your worth as a person. It's like everyone fails. And then when you fail A. you can say, okay, well, I failed, everyone fails. What can I learn from this failure? And so that type of learning orientation actually makes it a lot more easy to succeed because we know that failures are our best teacher. But if we shame ourselves, when we fail, we can actually learn more feel of shame. So, it allows us to learn from our failure. It gives us the grit and determination to try again because again, we aren't so afraid of failure. Okay, I'll try again. If I fail again, well, let's pick myself up again. So, it leads to persistence that leads to grit, it leads to a growth mindset, and it's actually more effective over time. So, you know the thing about self-criticism. And it's kind of interesting because I wonder if it relates to your work on executive function. But what it does is it buttresses the illusion of control. Right? So, we really like to feel that we're in control. And it feels an almost feels better to know, I should have gotten it right. And like the date, you know, being mad at yourself for not getting it right, because at least you can cling to the illusion well, that I could have gotten it right. Perfection is possible. If I were just to try a little harder, you know, and open to the reality that sometimes we try our best and we still fail, we do our best. It's not we have no input into the system we do, we certainly aren't controlling, we certainly can't control our outcomes. And that's scary. Yeah. So, for instance, my son, my son is autistic. And I've noticed with a lot of autistic kids, failing or make mistakes is incredibly scary, but it is for everyone. But it just is I can see it just so much clearer, more clearly with him, you think it'd be super self-compassionate being raised by me? He actually is learning this skill slowly. But his first instinct is self-criticism. Because in his mind, that's like, okay, that's the sense of control, you know, he gets mad at himself for making a mistake. And that makes him feel safe, because it's scary to think that he forgets things, like we all do. You know, and so it's almost what self-compassion allows us to do is it allows us to give up the illusion of control at the same time, so I talk about it, as you know, the dance of acceptance and change are these two sides of self-compassion, fierce and tender self-compassion, tender self-compassion is like accepting, okay, we aren't in total control. We make mistakes, stuff happens, this is part of life. Can we open to that without, you know, trying to fight it all the time? But the underside of self-compassion is saying, yes. And what can I do to help? It doesn't mean like to give up, but we want to do our best in the future. So, we need both just like a parent, we love our kids unconditionally. But we want them we want them to achieve their best is both simultaneously.

Sucheta Kamath: And I love that because I think as you have talked about this you have written about this is that it's about merely being kind to yourself, and kind doesn't mean loose and lack of expectations or permissiveness, kind of tolerating the mishap in between, as you're molding yourself to become a different person, and this is lifelong quest, you're going to continue to change until you die. Yeah, it really changed once you die. So, you know, this reminds me of my work, you know, working with people on the spectrum and ADHD and, and people with mild traumatic brain injury, the concept of friendship making, you know, that, that, that how do we find commonality and relate, kindly tolerate the talk that's coming your way, but also share interest and, and kind of have something common to do, except here in self compassion world, making friends is with self. And so, I came across this interesting research that talked about almost 25%, when asked that when they're suffering, or when they're in pain, they report and have no one to talk to. So obviously, self-compassion can be so valuable, because in those lonely moments, the one friend that you can rely on is self. So, could you tell us a little bit about is that a right way to think about self-compassion? is learning a mechanism of making friendship with self? And is there any benefit in that approach?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Yeah, well, so that's, that's prime, if you go to my website, it is self-compassion is treating yourself like a good friend. I mean, the friendship metaphor is the most easily understandable, right? Because it's something we know, we know how to be supportive towards, you know, to someone with or if they're struggling. We know how to be kind; we know how to be warm. And having said that, so self-compassion is more than kindness, you might say, that's kind of the core of it. That's really the heart of it, the thing that's easiest to access to understand. So, if we talked to kids, for instance, I just talked about being a good friend to yourself. But kindness alone doesn't necessarily guarantee you good outcomes, because in some ways, you can say a narcissist is kind to themselves, right? Yes, you know, so it's, it's it, but it's true. It's like kindness alone. It's essential. It's the core, but it's not enough. So, in my model is actually three components of self-compassion, and all three need to be there to make it a stable and healthy mindset. And they tend to correlate and go together. But you know, not necessarily. So, in addition to kindness. First of all, mindfulness is really essential to self-compassion. So, mindfulness, mindfulness allows us to see clearly what's happening. And so first of all, the first thing we need to notice is that we're suffering or that we're struggling, and you might as obvious but it's up, we often aren't mindful of our suffering, what we're what we're doing one of two things, that we're avoiding it and suppressing it, not a problem, or we are so busy, we just aren't even thinking about it. Like, if you had a friend, you said, hey, I need to talk to him. Maybe you're struggling, I'm too busy. I'm too busy. You know, we do that with ourselves. I'm just too busy. Or the other thing we do is we might we do we get lost in the pain, we get lost in the drama, there's no perspective, we need some perspective to step outside of ourselves, say, hey, you really having a hard time? Can I help? Right? And so, mindfulness is what provides us that perspective. And again, that perspective is crucial for us to be able to see clearly what's happening, not to fool ourselves, like stalling positive thinking, like, yeah, you know, everything's great. with mindfulness. Mindfulness isn't necessarily positive thinking, because mindfulness actually things aren't so great. Maybe you need a little work here, you know, a constructive criticism right there. Maybe there are some issues that need to be addressed that mindfulness is what gives us the clarity to be able to do that. And then really important is a sense of common humanity. Right? So, compassion, by definition is a connected way of approaching suffering. Right? So as opposed to pity, which is like feeling sorry for someone or feeling sorry for oneself. But you know, the word in Latin calm means were to suffer with, it's like, inherently. That's why you would like it Sucheta if I had compassion for you, because, okay, I've been there. But you wouldn't like if I pitied you. It's like, I feel sorry for you. Yes, night and day, in terms of the feeling, and also night and day in the terms of how we approach herself. So, we're framing it. Again, it's kind of that that larger perspective, it's not actually, even though it's called self-compassion I once was at a Buddhist monk planning me, oh, you just mean inner compassion, like you don't need to self with self-compassion. In other words, it's just compassion directed inwardly and outwardly. But in many ways, the sense of self recedes and self-compassion, because it's not about me, it's about all this is the human experience, everyone's imperfect, everyone struggles, you know, I'm not in total control of things, what's happening is kind of so many complex causes and conditions that are way beyond my ability to, you know, control what's happening. And so, and that the research shows that as well that people are less self-focused. I mean, self-criticism and shame, are incredibly self-focused states of mind. When you counter that with self-compassion, you're actually less self-focus.

Sucheta Kamath: I love that a note, can I share a story it reminded me of a story. You know, of course, in all traditions have the stories to illustrate the point. But there was a beautiful young monk goes to the master and says, well, how what is compassion. So, he says, come with me and stand here by the window. And from the window, they can see a beggar who's sitting on the street and begging, and a, an old lady passes by, and she throws a gold coin into in his lap. And then a few minutes later, a merchant walks by and throws five coins in his lap. And then a little boy goes by, and the beggar gives him a flower. And so, then the man, the master, turns to the student and says, who do you think is most compassion, compassionate, so the students is the merchant. And he says, No, son you're wrong. And so, then he says, you know, the old lady who threw the coin, she pities the beggar, and pity is not compassion. And then the, and he says, you know, the gold, the five gold coins, it may look like he was very generous, but he actually was running, there was a, you know, the government had come to take taxes. So, he wanted to escape that. So, he threw that, and the beggar in his misery, he was able to understand the need of the child. And so, he is the most compassionate so it just kind of I think, in your, and I would love for you to maybe comment on the, because it may be lost sometimes on people when you use the term. or was suffering, because suffering sounds dramatic. But yeah, but suffering is not what dramatic as you mean, it actually is a good way to it's a psychological term, but can you talk about that? 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Sure. And some people and I usually try to remind people that I don't necessarily mean it that way. But yes, and I'm suffering is like, you know, big suffering. I mean, stubbing your toe any moment of emotional discomfort or pain by some big some small, but the idea is you relate to any sort of negative or difficult or challenging experience physical pain, mental pain, with the support of staff, I mean, think about stubbing your toe, if you just you know, it may be a small thing, but oftentimes, small things explode into big things because we ignore them or we just, you know, get mad at people and yell and kick the dog or something. Like that, you know, so the idea is, it's just, it's just a mindset or any sort of difficulty or negative emotion or challenge. It's really a way we hold pain again, big or small? Do we hold it with a feeling of connectedness, of kindness of support? Are we mindful of that, and when we aren't, we aren't mindful of it, or we get lost in it, or we ignore it? That actually, that's, that's when it starts going off to the races, you know, getting out of control.

Sucheta Kamath: So, you know, so I see your framework, so running parallel to the framework of understanding executive function. So, if you talk about mindfulness, which is that executive attention, which is knowing not only paying attention, but knowing what to pay attention to, and continuously monitoring, paying off that attention. And one of the lovely things I think, in the mindfulness literature as well as your work, you talk about this, paying attention to your suffering is kind of taking and dedicating some attention inward, so that the emotions that it generates doesn't take away your capacity to think or feel in a less or more handicap way. So executive attention. So, when we talk about executive attention training is really heightening the awareness of where the attentional resources are going.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Right. Right. And so that's why a lot of people think of self-compassion as an emotion regulation strategy. I mean, yeah. 

Sucheta Kamath: That's not fully though because you have the humanity concept that is that same, you know, taking mindfulness concept from the eastern world, there's a whole culture,

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Right, yeah, right. I think it's I think it's more than that, but it is part of it in terms of how it functions and why it's good for wellbeing. I do you think it's because it allows to win. So, when you're emotionally dysregulated, it derails your ability to have useful executive function. Yes. Right. And so, when you're more emotionally regulated, you're more able to have successful executive function. So, the link again, it's more than that. But it...

Sucheta Kamath: Well, some part of it. Yeah, you're absolutely right. Because you're also talking about which is executive control is trying to control attention. That's not what we're talking about. That is actually becoming this person who's always present, which is yes, but executive function arena, more often people talk about which niche needs to be improved your attentional awareness. The second part that I really love, in your three-part framework is the common humanity. And one question I had about that, you know, is this capacity to take perspective, and being able to explore the idea beyond one's own suffering that everybody has suffering, which means that theory of mind concept, you know, that if I, if this happens to me, somebody slights me or insults me, my feelings get hurt, or somebody leaves a bad comment, or text me in a rude way. It's the same reaction, any person who is texted rudely to, and I think that forgetfulness is actually a problem with people who have inflexibility cognitive flexibility, affective flexibility. And a lot of disorders, including, you know, autism spectrum and ADHD, have deficits in that. So, I was just curious. In your work, is this capacity to take perspective of the other, particularly when you're down? normatively easy for people to do? Or if that's, if it's a minimum? It's a question that makes sense. How do we go about that?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: I think we have; I certainly haven't studied it and that type of detail, I think it'd be really interesting to do so. I mean, I do think that perspective taking skills are very useful for self-compassion. You know, imagining what, what someone kind would say to you about this, or again, imagine what you would say to someone else. Most people don't do it automatically. I'm not sure. I mean, it could be partly because they have poor executive function skills. I think actually, personally, I think a bigger problem is because when we fail or make a mistake, or things are difficult, we go into threat defense mode, right? And then we're activated. So, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. And I think, again, my gut tells me, it's more that the emotions derail us, which inhibits our ability to use these skills as opposed necessarily to theory of mind. But essentially, I'm trying to think about my son. So, my son Rowan, who's autistic, right he's, like most artistic people is very, a lot of challenges with theory of mind, very hard for him to just figure out what other people must be feeling through the normal ways that, you know, people don't normally develop neurotypical people develop earlier. But he's very warm and loving. Right? So, it's like, he's not going to figure out that you're upset about something that you're probably upset about something. But if you say he'll really care about it. So first, his theory of mind doesn't necessarily mean you care, con artists have great theory of mind skills, absolutely take that to, you know, take advantage of you. So, they are different, the warmth, and the concern is different from the perspective taking in the theory of mine. And so, you know, so Rowan, he does struggle, he's starting to spike for years and years and years, that give me that self-compassion stuff, mommy. But it was mainly because he didn't want to accept the pain. He found the pain, so scary and so distasteful that he still he still believed that he could figure it out and like, control it and make it go away. Yeah, and I would say that was probably a bigger block than his difficulty taking the perspective of another adult probably added into it. You know, so again, that's the thing. So, there's a cognitive component, which is you think of as executive function or theory of mind. But then there's also the emotional affective, yeah, yeah. And they're both and they, then they, they interact as well. 

Sucheta Kamath: And it's interesting, you say that, because, yeah, we have had an amazing guest on my podcast, who has talked about whose work is in this two types of theory of mind, four actually, if you think about it, because one is an effective Theory of Mind the thinking about and feeling the feelings others feel, and then the cognitive theory of mind, which is thinking of the thinking of other people's thinking and feeling. So, there's two buckets, but then there's inter interactive theory of mind between people and then within self. So. So in that framework, you definitely see deficits in some parts of it, and depending on that neuro atypical developmental pattern. And so that's why you gave such a beautiful example of, particularly on autism, a person with autism may not be able to explain that you are understand, like, the complexity of the day that got you there, but they can meet you there and offer you comfort that really is what humans do to each other. But they may not be able to verbally guide you to think differently about what you got heard about. So, it's a really complicated thing for them. It is it is to be educated. Yes. So, you know, this interesting, then, can we talk the other side of compassion, which is cruelty? You know, and because you talk about this recognizing humanity is cruelty more, coming from inability to recognize the humanity or his unwillingness to recognize because it benefits self? It could be both, of course, but what are your thoughts about rule of cruelty? And why this F2F, you know, the not having face to face interaction, particularly on the internet, when you leave comments, you see the more cruel side of people? What, what, what is happening there? Yeah. Well, I mean, it's like, so many things.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: I think it's not a million miles away from what happens internally. It's like we dehumanize people, right? So, when we're feeling the humanity of ourselves, or other people, we naturally tend to be kinder, right when we feel connected to so until when we care about. But when we aren't feeling their humanity, we tend to Yeah, we take our negative emotions out on them, right? Some people try to exploit others or abuse them. I mean, what's really interesting is most people if we get their scores a self-report score, if that compassion levels, to like 4.5 out of 5.0. I mean, most people are off the charts in terms of compassion for others, and then you look at the world. Right? It's actually not very compassionate. And so I think there's a lot of, I mean, some of that social desirability bias, but also, I think some of its contacts, like we're compassionate and some people that we relate with in group Yeah, people who are compassionate others that we kind of call others with that other side of the political spectrum or you know, they are there part of my life, so I'm just not really going to think about them. Yeah, you know, it's complicated. I, you know, I, I wouldn't, I wouldn't presume to be able to say I had a really good answer for that. But one thing I, one thing I do know, is self-compassion, actually, because of the ability of self-compassion, to hold all the difficult stuff like anger, and shame, and, you know, insecurity, and greed and all these things that drive a lot of these negative social interactions, the more self-compassion we have, the more we're able to have compassionate relationships with others. Sorry. So exactly, it's not the case, that we must be self-compassionate before we're compassionate others, because in fact, most people are more compassionate to others than themselves. So, in fact, the majority of people are a lot more compassionate to others than themselves. So, it's not the case, you have to have it. But when you do have it, it actually enables you to sustain being compassionate to others, without burning out, and also helps you deal with your own negative emotions in a way that may end up harming others. If they aren't, if they aren't processed or dealt with in a healthy manner.

Sucheta Kamath: And it's so neat, you know, this conversation about some clever ways to first manage your emotions, so that you can come to a place where you can then activate the compassion that you need to feel and compassion for people who don't deserve it, you know, or who have legitimately hurt you or hurt your people or whatever. I recently came across Natalie Wynn, she is a transgender activist and a YouTube star and JK Rowling, you know, author of Harry Potter said something really interesting and unacceptable, if you ask me about, you know, some hateful thoughts towards transgender. And, and so she did a YouTube video on it. And it was such an interesting pivot. So, she said, because, you know, Natalie Wynn herself has a great following. She could have just viewed hate and kind of fed into that, you know, how people are and lambasted her. She's just got to her perspective and say, if this is what you were saying, let me give you some more information. So maybe you will understand why you said is probably not what you would have said, if you knew this. So, it was such a wonderful way to present it. But yes, it did require and then I later on, heard Natalie Wynn's interview, and she said it took a lot. So, you know, I think, lastly, I want to kind of come in the space of morality and, and the benefits of compassion are enormous, you know, as your work shows that it's predictive of well-being, it also is a better alternative than pursuing self-esteem. It is linked with coping and resilience, it leads to healthier behaviors, not just for the sake of outcome, but just living a better well lived life, and relationships, and relationship. Oh, well, then before we talk about morality, maybe you can help me understand the research in relationship. And I want to give you a cute story, if I may. So, my parents, you know, my father was a big fan of China, of fine bone, China. And so, we would have sets in India, you know, you drink tea, and saucer and very, you know, kettle like very British influence there. And my mother, God forbid, was a little bit not so careful. And so, she would chip, and he would get really upset because that was one thing that he really cared about. And so, one day, she went to her dear friend's house, who also had an even bigger collection and fancier China. And then the wife dropped one of the cups and broke it. And the husband said, oh, poor cup, it has to end your life. It was such a sad day for you. But you know what, thank you for serving us. And then he went on picking up trash and threw it. So, my mom came running home and told my husband, my father, you wouldn't believe this is what I witnessed. And she said, ever since I told him that story, he never ever made a big deal of any glass or cup or mug chipping ever. And that just changed their relationship. Their fights were about not big things. It was about the cup. So, tell us why it's so valuable. When you're compassionate towards yourself, not other person it actually elevates the relationship.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Yeah, yeah. So for instance, we did a study with couples long term, you're more in a romantic relationship and people were described by their partners if the more self compassionate they were, the more they were described by their partners as being caring intimate, less controlling. People are more satisfied and relationships when their partners are self compassionate. And basically what's happening is, first of all, if you can meet a lot of your own needs, you aren't so dependent on your partner to do meet your all your new needs exactly as you want them met, resources yourself to find some, you know, inner inner ways to be happy or to deal with some of your issues. So you aren't expecting so much of your partner. And so one of the things that happens is you're less controlling, for instance, if you can meet your own needs, and you have your own space, you can actually give your partner more space. Another really important things at least more often in more authenticity and relationships. Because when you can accept yourself and your flaws and be kind and supportive to yourself, you can be more authentic intimacy, right? So there's a lot of research showing that the kinder you are to yourself, you know, the more you're able to, for instance, be forgiving toward others and and take their perspective. So it definitely is good for others as well as oneself. 

Sucheta Kamath: So I will change my mind and it will end with how do we gain self compassion, and you have wonderful, but the most recent, self guided meditation that you have added is my favorite, by the way. Which is the fierce compassion 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Really? Oh, wonderful. Yeah, I just added that. Yeah. 

Sucheta Kamath: I love that. So, tell us what we can do and tell us what's going to be in your new book. 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Yeah, so just to say, so my new book is called Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive. Because there really are these two sides of self-compassion, there's what I call the tender side and the fear side, both are equally important. And they need both, and they need to be balanced, integrated. So again, the tenderness is more the accepting, soft, gentle, nurturing side. But the fierce side is like the protective side, for instance, you talked about morality, standing up to injustice is an important crucial act of self-compassion. Right? So Black Lives Matter movement, you know, all the movements towards greater equality, these are acts of self-compassion, you know, and even if even if you're part of the group, you know, like, I'm a white person, but what happens to people of color impacts me as well. So, it's really all yourself and other at some, at some level, that distinction kind of breaks down. So, it's all really important part of compassion. I didn't. So, I had that associate drawing her boundaries, saying, no, I'm also meeting our own needs. In other words, not just subordinating our knees like women, especially, are raised people like us if we if we're self-sacrificing. And they like us when we say yes, and they don't like us so much. When we say no. And part of self-compassion is saying, I'm sorry, I'd love to help. But I can't, I'm busy. I'm doing something. This is really important to me. And it's not like more Eastern, it's not selfish, you're prioritizing yourself over others. But you know, people compromise more. It's like, yeah, my knees are important. Your needs are important. And really valuing ourselves, in addition to others, is really an important part of self-compassion. And then of course, motivating change, right? And not just motivating change inside also in the world. Right? So, this is like the action power-oriented side of self-compassion, what am I going to do to be healthier? What am I going to do to change the world, so it's not so destructive and oppressive, right? And the reason it's written for a woman is because gender socialization, basically, first of all, it inhibits everyone, it inhibits those raised his boys not, they can only be tender, they're called names. They're too tender, right, they're called sissies and all these other names. And that really harmed boy’s ability to use the power of compassion, to help regulate their emotions, and to heal from wounds and kind of be emotionally intelligent, really harms men. And for women, of course, they're allowed to be tender, nurturing, but they aren't allowed to be fierce, they aren't allowed to get angry, they aren't allowed to speak up, you know, at least traditionally, you know, obviously, things are changing, but the vestiges of this are still there and still impacting women. And so that's why I wrote this book, especially for women, because nurture because compassion is part of the female gender role towards others, not toward ourselves. You know, we kind of know compassion, we're kind of compassion experts. So again, we're kind of doing this twist because I like to call it our mama bear energy. thing is we know how to be mama bear. We know how to be fierce for others to protect our children, right? Or people we love. And that's in us some, but it's only allowed to come out in the context of protecting our children. Oh, we tap into that same ferocity, to help ourselves to protect ourselves, protect our fellow sisters or you know what our people in general. And so, I have a lot of it's not again, it's not just ideas and research. It's also a lot of practices, how you can defend Unlike so this for instance, is fierce friend, meditation, which is where you imagine it, ideally, person who can you know, and I do think who combines this tenderness and fierceness because again, too much tenderness without enough fierceness is complacency, that too much fierceness without enough tenderness becomes aggression. ability. So, we always need both. And that's a problem as a society, we're completely out of balance. So, it's my, it's my small aim to try to help correct some of that balance.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, you're changing lives. That's so beautiful. And this reminds me of true Buddha nature, right? It's a soft front and firm back. Yes, exactly. Morally anchor, is anchored in clarity of vision and purpose and soft is that receptive, receptive, open, kind, but not silly or stupid, or that a doormat,

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Or a doormat or Idiot Compassion as Chogyam used to say Yeah,

Sucheta Kamath: Exactly. Well, as we end, always love to hear what you know, incredible minds like you are reading these days and what have has influenced your thought process.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: So, gosh, why would it be formed for my book, I've actually taken a little break of reading because I just finished it for my book. I was reading a lot of the literature on things like women's anger, really, a great book like, if I can say her name right Soraya Chemaly of Rage Becomes Her, I love that book, kind of people writing about how the fact that women are allowed to harness their anger for good actually harms them, and kind of what makes healthy anger and unhealthy anger. I've also read a lot of bell hooks, who's a classic writer, but she's a black feminist, social critic who writes and but she's also Buddhist, and is all about love. I mean, that's an amazing thing. She's like, she kicks ass. She's so loving. You know, I just she's one of my heroes. I love her. So that that's probably the stuff going on Ethan Kross', Chatter, which I haven't read yet. I haven't had time. But that sounds really interesting.

Sucheta Kamath:  I do not know Ethan Kross'. I mean, is it a new book?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Yeah, it's a new book. Yeah, you should probably it's probably it's I'm sure it's all about self-talks. It's probably really relevant to what you do you actually may want to have him on your show.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, that will be lovely. 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: It looks really good. It's I just haven't had time to read it yet. But it's, um, I've got on my table.

Sucheta Kamath: You sound like a ferocious reader.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Oh, well, sometimes I also get tired. When you when you work on the computer all day and you write it's like sometimes you just want to like veg out in front of TV. So, I do that as well.

Sucheta Kamath: I, I completely I'm telling my compassion for you. Because you deserve it. I hope your brilliant mind has few more. I mean, not children, few more books to birth. So yeah, waiting for more. Well, thank you so much for being with us. And thank you everyone for tuning in and listening to this amazing conversation. Remember to be kind to yourself, and, and if you haven't already found inspiration, there are tons of guided meditations that Kristin has created for us. So please follow. I as I said, my fierce friendship, mindful self-compassion, meditation is my favorite. And keep in touch, share if you like what you're hearing, please share and have a fantastic day. Thank you so much for being with us. 

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: Thank you.