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Being Kind to Yourself vs. Self-Criticism

During a recent long car drive, I listened to a favorite podcast called Hidden Brain. The executive editor, Shankar Vedadntam, serves as host for the show, and he has been reporting on human behavior and social science research for over 25 years. I felt especially touched by their recent episode entitled, Being Kind to Yourself.

The episode’s description stated:

Self-criticism is often seen as a virtue. But psychologist Kristin Neff says there’s a better path to self-improvement — self-compassion. She says people who practice self-compassion are more conscientious and more likely to take responsibility for their mistakes.

But surely the only true way to improve oneself is by being harsh and critical of yourself. Right? If you practice self-compassion, aren’t you just letting yourself off the hook?

Kristin Neff starts this episode by sharing a very vulnerable story from her past. While married and attending college, she falls in love with her professor, has an affair, and eventually divorces her husband as a result. Her husband was devastated. There’s more to the story, but the point is, Kristin certainly had reason to be very self-critical.

Her story was very relatable for me. I married at 19, and after 20 years of wedded misery, I had an affair. As a result, I internalized a lot of guilt and shame, and I can’t even begin to count how many times I cursed myself. I practiced a lot of self-criticism. As a former Bible believer at the time, my self-hatred was amplified thanks to weekly sermons and scripture passages.

So I found this podcast episode especially helpful and practical. All too often, we think that being hard on ourselves means we will more readily improve. But Kristin’s lengthy research shows how that’s not always the case, and in fact, it can often do more harm than good.

Give it a listen.

Hidden Brain – Being Kind to Yourself (Oct 14, 2021)

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