The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion

    —
October 3, 2019

Yin and Yang of Self Compassion by Kristin Neff Blog Header Photo

The concept of yin and yang is a perfect metaphor for the energies of self-compassion. Most people are familiar with the circle of yin and yang, black and white halves and a dot of each in between. The yin is the dark energy; it’s supposed to be more feminine, more of a passive energy, more the “being with.” And the white⁠—or yang⁠—is supposedly the more active energy, the masculine energy, doing things that make a change. But really these energies are not male or female, these energies are in every single person and actually all life forms.

A lot of these ideas come from Chris Germer—my close colleague, who developed the Mindful Self-Compassion program with me—and the things we have been talking about for a long time. And to give him credit, Chris actually⁠ came up with the idea that the main domains of yang self-compassion are protecting ourselves, providing ourselves with what we need, and motivating ourselves. What I have been doing with this model is developing each of these ideas in more detail.

Readers may know there are three basic components of self-compassion:

  • Kindness⁠—being kind to ourselves
  • Common Humanity⁠—remembering this is part of life
  • Mindfulness⁠—being mindful of our struggle or pain

And so these three components of kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness take a different form, they feel different, and they have a different flavor depending on what form the self-compassion is taking.

For instance, when self-compassion is aimed at protecting ourselves, it feels like fierce, empowered clarity. The kindness is fierce: that’s the Momma Bear, “No! That is not OK. You will go no further.” Common humanity, that’s that “me too” feeling. We stand together with our brothers and sisters in strength, we are empowered by our connection with others. And then the mindfulness is that real sense of clarity, that “This is not OK.” So it’s a difference between loving, connected presence, and fierce, empowered clarity.

It feels different when you are providing for yourself, when you’re giving yourself what you truly, authentically need. In this case, the kindness feels very fulfilling and satisfying. When we give ourselves what we need, we feel fulfilled. With common humanity, we recognize that it’s a balanced way; in other words, we don’t just give to ourselves, and we don’t subordinate our needs to those of others, but we’re balanced. Common humanity allows us to balance our needs with others. And then mindfulness gives us a real sense of authenticity: “What do I need? Do I even know what I need?” When self-compassion is in full bloom while we are providing for our needs, it manifests as fulfilling, balanced authenticity. Again, it feels very different.

And last, if we’re motivating ourselves, kindness in motivation comes out as encouragement. It’s not kindness when someone needs to be motivated and they’re stuck, to just say, “Oh well, that’s fine.” Or to ourselves, if we aren’t feeling happy, to say, “Oh, that’s fine.” Kindness means we don’t criticize ourselves; we don’t call ourselves names, but we say “You can do it! I believe in you!” Kindness is a very encouraging quality. Common humanity kind of sees how things are related to each other. It actually comes from the bigger view of interdependence—the causes and conditions that come together to create our suffering. So, when we motivate ourselves, common humanity actually manifests as wisdom. We can see where we’re stuck, why we’re stuck, what mistakes we made—we kind of understand the bigger picture of what’s happening. And then, mindfulness, in this case, is vision. It gives us the vision to see what we need to change in order to help ourselves. So in this case, kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness feels like encouraging, wise vision.

Let me give an example of this last domain. If you care about yourself and you don’t want to suffer, you’re going to want to make needed changes. You’re going to want to reach your goals. You’re going to want to be your best self. I mean, just like a parent wants that for their child, we want that for ourselves. Also we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up. Because, again, if we remember that the reason we do it, the reason maybe if you’ve ever been hard on yourself, is because you want to be safe and you want to be happy. And there’s a part of you that thinks maybe this will help. If you’re really harsh on yourself, maybe you’ll pay attention and remember and do something different. It’s natural, but it’s just not very effective, right?

So if you think about it, what voice is more effective? A voice telling you how bad you are, who’s belittling you, who’s really mean? Or a voice that’s encouraging, supportive, “You can do it”? We’re going to listen more to that encouraging and supportive voice. We’re also going to be able to take in what that voice is saying more readily than a voice who’s just shutting us down.

There’s a wisdom element, too. Self-compassion taps into constructive criticism.

What mistakes did I make?

How can I do it better next time?

That’s a caring, understanding, compassionate approach. What self-criticism tends to do, is it just gives us not very wise information. Just like, “You’re bad. You did it wrong. Do it better next time.” It doesn’t say what to do differently or how to do it differently. Or it doesn’t see the bigger picture of all the causes and conditions that led to this outcome. That’s actually pretty lousy information. Kindness, on the other hand, yields a kind of wisdom. “Oh, I see. I did this. Maybe I can try this different next time and that would lead to a better effect.” It’s actually much more informational to give wise encouragement as opposed to the belittling name-calling.

Then also, the thing about having the vision. What we know—actually you probably know this from positive psychology, is that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus. It limits what we can see. We only see what we did wrong and how we’re wrong. We can’t actually see possibilities because the negative emotion actually has the function, evolutionarily actually, of narrowing our vision. Positive emotions—kindness, safety, warmth—they have the effect of broadening our perspective so that we can have a larger vision so that we can see the possibilities so that we might get an idea of, “Oh, I can try this. This may really work better for me.” The research we’ve done really backs up that this kind of encouraging, wise voice of compassionate motivation is actually much more effective and more sustainable in motivating ourselves to change.

This is an excerpt from the Insights at the Edge podcast episode with Kristin Neff, author of The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty.

Kristin Neff, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a practitioner in the Insight Meditation tradition. She is the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. A true pioneer in the field, over 15 years ago she first identified self-compassion as a measurable trait, and now there are over 2000 published studies on its benefits. Kristin is a cofounder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, and gives talks and teaches workshops on self-compassion worldwide. In addition to her research, she has developed an eight‑week program to teach self‑compassion skills called Mindful Self-Compassion. The program, co‑created with her colleague Chris Germer, has been taken by tens of thousands of people worldwide. Kristin and Chris recently co-authored The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, an immediate bestseller. Learn more at self-compassion.org.

Listen to The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion today!

Sounds True | Audible | Amazon

 

 

 

 

Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion Kristin Neff Pinterest

Kristin Neff

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Kristin Neff, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and is the author of Self-Compassion (Morrow, 2011). She has been practicing Buddhist meditation since 1997, and has co-created a program on Mindful Self-Compassion with her associate Chris Germer at Harvard University. She and her family were featured in the recent documentary The Horse Boy.


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interview with Kristin Neff:
The Liberating Power of Self-Compassion »
The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion

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The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion

Yin and Yang of Self Compassion by Kristin Neff Blog Header Photo

The concept of yin and yang is a perfect metaphor for the energies of self-compassion. Most people are familiar with the circle of yin and yang, black and white halves and a dot of each in between. The yin is the dark energy; it’s supposed to be more feminine, more of a passive energy, more the “being with.” And the white⁠—or yang⁠—is supposedly the more active energy, the masculine energy, doing things that make a change. But really these energies are not male or female, these energies are in every single person and actually all life forms.

A lot of these ideas come from Chris Germer—my close colleague, who developed the Mindful Self-Compassion program with me—and the things we have been talking about for a long time. And to give him credit, Chris actually⁠ came up with the idea that the main domains of yang self-compassion are protecting ourselves, providing ourselves with what we need, and motivating ourselves. What I have been doing with this model is developing each of these ideas in more detail.

Readers may know there are three basic components of self-compassion:

  • Kindness⁠—being kind to ourselves
  • Common Humanity⁠—remembering this is part of life
  • Mindfulness⁠—being mindful of our struggle or pain

And so these three components of kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness take a different form, they feel different, and they have a different flavor depending on what form the self-compassion is taking.

For instance, when self-compassion is aimed at protecting ourselves, it feels like fierce, empowered clarity. The kindness is fierce: that’s the Momma Bear, “No! That is not OK. You will go no further.” Common humanity, that’s that “me too” feeling. We stand together with our brothers and sisters in strength, we are empowered by our connection with others. And then the mindfulness is that real sense of clarity, that “This is not OK.” So it’s a difference between loving, connected presence, and fierce, empowered clarity.

It feels different when you are providing for yourself, when you’re giving yourself what you truly, authentically need. In this case, the kindness feels very fulfilling and satisfying. When we give ourselves what we need, we feel fulfilled. With common humanity, we recognize that it’s a balanced way; in other words, we don’t just give to ourselves, and we don’t subordinate our needs to those of others, but we’re balanced. Common humanity allows us to balance our needs with others. And then mindfulness gives us a real sense of authenticity: “What do I need? Do I even know what I need?” When self-compassion is in full bloom while we are providing for our needs, it manifests as fulfilling, balanced authenticity. Again, it feels very different.

And last, if we’re motivating ourselves, kindness in motivation comes out as encouragement. It’s not kindness when someone needs to be motivated and they’re stuck, to just say, “Oh well, that’s fine.” Or to ourselves, if we aren’t feeling happy, to say, “Oh, that’s fine.” Kindness means we don’t criticize ourselves; we don’t call ourselves names, but we say “You can do it! I believe in you!” Kindness is a very encouraging quality. Common humanity kind of sees how things are related to each other. It actually comes from the bigger view of interdependence—the causes and conditions that come together to create our suffering. So, when we motivate ourselves, common humanity actually manifests as wisdom. We can see where we’re stuck, why we’re stuck, what mistakes we made—we kind of understand the bigger picture of what’s happening. And then, mindfulness, in this case, is vision. It gives us the vision to see what we need to change in order to help ourselves. So in this case, kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness feels like encouraging, wise vision.

Let me give an example of this last domain. If you care about yourself and you don’t want to suffer, you’re going to want to make needed changes. You’re going to want to reach your goals. You’re going to want to be your best self. I mean, just like a parent wants that for their child, we want that for ourselves. Also we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up. Because, again, if we remember that the reason we do it, the reason maybe if you’ve ever been hard on yourself, is because you want to be safe and you want to be happy. And there’s a part of you that thinks maybe this will help. If you’re really harsh on yourself, maybe you’ll pay attention and remember and do something different. It’s natural, but it’s just not very effective, right?

So if you think about it, what voice is more effective? A voice telling you how bad you are, who’s belittling you, who’s really mean? Or a voice that’s encouraging, supportive, “You can do it”? We’re going to listen more to that encouraging and supportive voice. We’re also going to be able to take in what that voice is saying more readily than a voice who’s just shutting us down.

There’s a wisdom element, too. Self-compassion taps into constructive criticism.

What mistakes did I make?

How can I do it better next time?

That’s a caring, understanding, compassionate approach. What self-criticism tends to do, is it just gives us not very wise information. Just like, “You’re bad. You did it wrong. Do it better next time.” It doesn’t say what to do differently or how to do it differently. Or it doesn’t see the bigger picture of all the causes and conditions that led to this outcome. That’s actually pretty lousy information. Kindness, on the other hand, yields a kind of wisdom. “Oh, I see. I did this. Maybe I can try this different next time and that would lead to a better effect.” It’s actually much more informational to give wise encouragement as opposed to the belittling name-calling.

Then also, the thing about having the vision. What we know—actually you probably know this from positive psychology, is that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus. It limits what we can see. We only see what we did wrong and how we’re wrong. We can’t actually see possibilities because the negative emotion actually has the function, evolutionarily actually, of narrowing our vision. Positive emotions—kindness, safety, warmth—they have the effect of broadening our perspective so that we can have a larger vision so that we can see the possibilities so that we might get an idea of, “Oh, I can try this. This may really work better for me.” The research we’ve done really backs up that this kind of encouraging, wise voice of compassionate motivation is actually much more effective and more sustainable in motivating ourselves to change.

This is an excerpt from the Insights at the Edge podcast episode with Kristin Neff, author of The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty.

Kristin Neff, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a practitioner in the Insight Meditation tradition. She is the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. A true pioneer in the field, over 15 years ago she first identified self-compassion as a measurable trait, and now there are over 2000 published studies on its benefits. Kristin is a cofounder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, and gives talks and teaches workshops on self-compassion worldwide. In addition to her research, she has developed an eight‑week program to teach self‑compassion skills called Mindful Self-Compassion. The program, co‑created with her colleague Chris Germer, has been taken by tens of thousands of people worldwide. Kristin and Chris recently co-authored The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, an immediate bestseller. Learn more at self-compassion.org.

Listen to The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion today!

Sounds True | Audible | Amazon

 

 

 

 

Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion Kristin Neff Pinterest

Kristin Neff: The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff is an associate professor at the University of Texas and the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. With Sounds True, she has recently published the audio program The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Kristin about why it’s so difficult for so many people to treat themselves with actual compassion. Kristin explains that self-compassion is not some form of self-indulgence or excuse for bad behavior; indeed, there are actually various forms of self-compassion that arise in different situations. Tami and Kristin explore the roots of wrathful or angry self-compassion, including the mythological figures that embody this concept. Finally, they discuss the most common blocks to self-assertive compassion and the necessity of taking occasional “self-compassion breaks” to cultivate a better relationship within. (64 minutes)

Kristin Neff: The Liberating Power of Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff is a professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. The book and documentary The Horse Boy chronicle Kristin and her family’s extraordinary journey to help her autistic son. With Sounds True, Kristin has created the audio program Self-Compassion Step by Step, which includes clinical evidence of the importance of self-compassion along with techniques and exercises for cultivating this pivotal quality. In this interview, Tami Simon and Kristin talk about the vital distinction between self-esteem and self-compassion, three pillars of self-compassion, ‘self-compassion breaks,’ and the importance of recognizing our common humanity during difficulties that feel unique and isolating. (68 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway
In any moment of self-criticism or self-blame, a “go-to move” that is immediately effective and state-changing is to gently touch your arm, stroke your face, or place your hand on your heart (any form of soothing touch). This activates our mammalian “tend and befriend” system, releases oxytocin, and shifts us out of the threat-defense system. Try it next time you feel self-critical. Gently touching your body can shift your state of mind—fast!

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The Trauma-Trigger Cycle

When you are stuck with old unprocessed experiences living inside you, they can create what I call a trauma-trigger cycle because they are still very much alive in our systems.

Here’s my analogy to help you understand how this works and why it causes so much trouble. Imagine that you have a very difficult experience, for example, having to say goodbye to a sick pet. All of the details in the form of individual feelings, smells, images, sounds, and more get bundled up and deposited into a metaphorical glass trauma capsule—which gets stored in the body. It sits there with all of the old feelings we experienced at the time the event happened. While you might not be aware of it constantly, you are likely feeling those emotions at a low level all the time. When any current situation reminds you of any of those details hanging out in the capsule—either consciously or subconsciously—the old trauma gets “poked,” or reactivated. This is how we get triggered. Being triggered can bring up flashes of those memories, including images, feelings, and any sensory stimuli.

For the most part, except in certain cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from major life events, where sometimes the trigger is known, this trauma-trigger reaction actually happens at a subconscious level, outside of your awareness. Even in obvious situations, you may think you know what the trigger is, and try to avoid it, but it may be something totally different that got stuck in the metaphorical glass trauma capsule. Often, people come to me and say, “Nothing set this off,” “I’m depressed for no reason,” or “I suddenly started feeling terrible but nothing happened.” While this may seem true, I can bet on the fact that while the bad feelings might seem random, they are being triggered in some way that you simply haven’t yet identified. Triggers can be foods, colors, smells,sounds, weather, or anything, really! Finding and resolving triggers can become almost an entertaining game if you let it.

As you can imagine, this entire trauma-trigger dynamic is very unsettling and unpredictable—which can feel like danger to your system and keep you stuck in that freakout response. Not only that, but in this state, you can actually be excessively tuned in to your trauma, seeing reminders of it everywhere, which further traumatizes you.

I had an experience after going through a loved one’s difficult health crisis where every single place I looked, I saw reminders of the experience. And for someone who wonders if everything is some greater “sign from the Universe” (fact: not every single thing is) or my intuition is trying to get my attention because another loved one might be in danger (second fact: trauma and fear clouds intuition), it felt like torture to me. I kept meeting people who had the same illness that my loved one had had, saw posters and billboards advertising medications for the condition, and more. As a distraction while on vacation, I had deliberately picked out several seemingly lighthearted books to take—and it turned out a character in every single book had that same medical condition! I was constantly on edge and further traumatized by all of these things. This is a perfect example of what happens to us in a traumatized state: we become highly attuned to the world around us, perhaps subconsciously scanning for danger, but in the process, we see and get triggered by everyday things we’ve probably passed by a million times before. I realized that had I been tuned in to any other single thing out in the world, like peaches, I likely would have seen that everywhere. This recognition actually led to a funny mantra I used during that time to keep things light while I did the deeper healing work: Look for the peaches! But in all seriousness, what happened as I worked to release the trauma, just like you’ll be doing in this chapter, was that I stopped seeing reminders of it. I have to be honest in that this took months of using energy therapy in different ways to overcome the trauma I had experienced, like you’ll be learning soon—but it worked. Did all the people with this condition go away? Did all the billboards get taken down? No. The less traumatized I became, the less heightened my sensitivity to it was. This is a perfect example of why it’s essential to work with unprocessed experiences.

Emotional memory is stored throughout the entire body. Thanks to the work of Candace Pert, we know that “unexpressed emotions from experiences can get stuck in the body at the level of cellular memory.” This is such a simple explanation for why we feel bad when we haven’t resolved our past experiences. We are still quite literally feeling them. And even if it’s at a subtle level, it may only take a “trigger” from that metaphorical glass capsule to awaken it.

While your own unprocessed experiences may not disrupt your life in the way that clinically diagnosed PTSD does, you may relate to what it feels like to have PTSD, when one or a few memories from life takes over all of it. This is, again, why we must deal effectively and consistently with our emotions instead of suppressing them. Otherwise, we are at risk of our emotions becoming part of future unresolved experiences.

Even knowing all of this, there’s no need to panic. Again, not all experiences traumatize you. And, not all traumas will need to be dealt with in order to get you feeling better. But the ones that do need careful attention. I want you to understand that by working with trauma, we are not trying to force a positive perspective on it or make you be okay with something bad that happened to you. Not at all. What we want to do is release the stress it’s causing you, even if that stress is undetected consciously. We don’t want these traumas taking up space and energy in your body anymore or triggering you without your knowledge.

Working with unprocessed experiences will help empty the metaphorical glass trauma capsule so we stop becoming triggered by the world around us. In other words, you’ll be seeing peaches more easily instead of trauma triggers.

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy b scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

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The Importance of Being Vulnerable

Emotions are the primary way we connect with others. In fact, for all the ways we perceive that sharing our emotions causes trouble, it’s actually worse for us not to. Sharing our truest, most vulnerable selves actually prevents us from the isolation that occurs when we miss out on the deep connection that only comes from this type of transparency. While social media can be a place of great support, it’s also caused a huge challenge. Because we’ve created a world in which we are addicted to showing our curated emotions, social media posts rarely tell the entire story. We’ve gotten accustomed to holding back our real selves—so much, in fact, that we have a totally distorted view of what’s “real.”

On a wet fall day as I was researching the negative effects of social media for this book, I noticed that a heavy sense of melancholy had fallen over me. Pushing myself to go out for a short walk in my beloved Central Park, only a block away, took every ounce of energy I had. When I was out, my sadness didn’t fade, but astounded by the colorful change of leaves, I felt inspired to take a handful of photos. They were the kind that Instagram is made of. When I got home, I decided to post them on social media. But earlier that day I had read something that was still with me: what happened when Tracy Clayton, host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round, asked people to repost photos they’d previously shared on social media, but this time, with the “real story” behind them. The photos that most of us would have longed for had painful stories behind them. One woman admitted to a terrible anxiety attack that took her all day to overcome, someone else shared the grief over a loss of a loved one stuffed under their smile at a party, and so on. What this shows us is that we are all running after a farce. But what’s worse, it shows that we’re all co-creating it.

So after a brief pause, I posted my gorgeous fall photos from the park with this: Full disclosure: Inspired by research for my next book about how social media posts screw us up by making everything and everyone seem OK even when they are not, I’m adding the truth here. These pictures were taken on a walk I dragged myself on because I felt sad today for no particular reason (except for that life is a lot sometimes).

I am typically not a sad person, nor am I one who shares it on social media when I am. I am very transparent on my author account, but for some reason, I am less so on my personal page. The response that day when I shared how I really felt took me by great surprise. Dozens of people I rarely heard from came out of the blue with comments, texts, and private messages. And what most of them were saying was, “I feel that way too.” In our technological age, we are more connected than ever before, but also lonelier and more isolated than ever before. I wondered that day, What if everyone stopped staying so busy pretending everything was perfect? What if instead of hiding our vulnerabilities to prevent the isolation we fear, we are driving it?

The bottom line is that, over and over again, I’ve learned that emotions are better in every way when they aren’t kept inside and to myself. 

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

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LaRayia Gaston: Love Without Reason

LaRayia Gaston is a former model, actress, and the founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to offering organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row, which shows her time living with LA’s Skid Row residents and offers up a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with LaRayia about her new book, Love Without Reason. They discuss the superpower called “love”; why connection and empowerment are central to ending hunger; gratitude as an action, not just an attitude; transforming our “withholding” and scarcity mindsets; seeing humanity “on every corner, in every person”; and more. 

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