Why is it that so many of us are able to console a friend with kind words but are unable to do the same for ourselves?
It would take an entire book to answer that question.
So many are hard on themselves, living a lifetime of shame and guilt, or driving themselves toward perfection and acceptance. Or maybe to prove themselves to their parents.
An eight-week mindfulness self-compassion program is helping thousands all over the world to change their self-destructive patterns.
The program, pioneered by Dr. Kristin Neff and Chris Germer, now is available locally through naturopath Nina A. Meledandri, who uses her training to help others find ways to stop unhealthy thinking patterns. She leads groups in Portland and Salem.
She has been on a path to self-enlightenment ever since she happened upon Great Vow Monastery in Clatskanie 11 years ago. It was a happenstance; she was taking an outside walk and came upon an abbot. At first, she walked away but “something inside me said, ‘We are going to do this,’” Meledandri says.
Meditation was something she had wanted to do, and this time, she made the commitment. It’s a component of the self-compassion program, but it’s not about self-esteem, she says.
“Self-esteem is about comparison and it will desert you if you are not always winning,” Meledandri says. “It correlates to narcissism. Self-compassion is being a friend to yourself whether you win or lose. It is not dependent upon being better than someone else. You celebrate the accomplishments of others, your common humanity. It is freedom from guilt or shame. It is self-acceptance, realizing that all human beings have failings and to be kind to yourself.”
Lack of self-compassion frequently is related to addictions and eating disorders.
“It’s why it has become the hot new thing since the program was conceived,” Mele-dandri says. “It is a component of so many self-destructive patterns. The founders now teach all over the world and cannot keep up with the demand.”
Self-compassion provides emotional safety and strength to turn around uncomfortable and painful emotions and to undo habitual habits, she says, adding that it helps with loneliness and the feeling of being isolated.
Some people with eating disorders have these feelings and food, to them, is a symbol of love, she says. “Instead of calling a friend or a loved one, they go for cake and cookies.”
Children who have experienced shame, trauma or isolation can turn to sugar, compulsive shopping, sex, gambling and drinking to move away from discomfort. Or it’s something they do to deal with chronic pain.
Meledandri says mindfulness is the foundation of the program, and that unless people recognize what they are feeling and thinking, and the physical sensations in their bodies, it is difficult to turn toward self-compassion.
“With self-compassion you remember your common humanity, that you are not alone, that the loud, inner critic, the perfectionist, the tyrant, the bully inside are just voices,” she says. “You learn to practice self-kindness versus the self-critic.”
Research has shown that those who learn to understand themselves make “definite improvement” when they meditate 30 minutes a day. “You can build up to this by starting with three minutes a day. You are retraining your brain because the neurons change with practice,” Meledandri says.
The program is “not fast food,” she says. “Diets fail. It is small steps that lead to change. It takes time for the brain to accommodate new patterns. But self-compassion decreases anxiety and depression and there is an increase in resilience and overall life satisfaction.”
Self-compassion also is not self-pity. With self-pity, people become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. Self-pity tends to emphasize egocentric feelings. Self-pitying individuals often become carried away with and wrapped up in their own emotional drama. They cannot step back from their situation and adopt a more objective perspective.
“Things will not always go the way you want them to,” Meledandri says.
According to the founders of the self-compassion program, “You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, and fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition. The more you open your heart to this reality shared by everyone, you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow human beings.”