center for mindful self-compassion

Research: The Role of Self-Compassion in Creativity

Creativity is important for all of us, whether we are completing a business report, writing an essay for school, landscaping our garden, or cooking a meal for friends. Sometimes, however, the higher the stakes become, the harder it is to get started on or to even complete a project. 

Research shows that self-compassion can support the creative process. One study found self-compassion to be positively associated with artistic achievement and another study found self-compassion to support creative originality in self-critical individuals.

The importance of self-compassion on artistic achievements (Verger, N. B., Shankland  & Sudres, 2022)


In a new study, self-compassion was found to be positively associated with artistic achievement. In this study both the effects of emotional dysregulation and self-compassion on artistic achievement were measured. The results showed that artistic achievements were negatively associated with emotional dysregulation, and positively associated with self-compassion. The study also showed that individuals high in self-compassion displayed the same level of artistic achievement regardless of their level of emotional dysregulation. Whereas, for individuals with low or moderate levels of self-compassion, low emotional dysregulation was needed for displaying the same degree of artistic achievement. 

The authors point out that one prevalent part of being an artist is to constantly have one’s work evaluated and judged by others. This process can be emotionally challenging, especially if both the artist’s identity and self-worth is tied to the artistic output. The authors theorize that self-compassion might facilitate artistic achievement by making the artist less emotionally affected by the public evaluation of their work. This greater resilience means the artist experiences less inner obstacles while creating their work. 

Self-compassion facilitates creative originality among self-judgmental individuals (Zabelina & Robinson, 2010)


In this study the researchers conducted an experiment where two groups of people were asked to complete a creative originality task. Before completing the task, both groups were asked to write about a challenging situation. The first group, the control group, was asked to just journal about the challenging situation, whereas, the self-compassion group, received a set of self-compassion journaling prompts to support them in bringing self-compassion to their experience. This study showed that compared to nonjudgmental individuals, self-judgmental individuals displayed lower levels of creative originality when they were only asked to journal about the challenging situation, but equal levels of creative originality when they had received the journaling prompts that supported them in bringing self-compassion to their experience. This shows that activating self-compassion before a task can support creative originality.

The authors reflect that self-judgmental individuals are likely to self-impose restrictions on their creative output, and as self-compassion directly counteracts self-judgment it removes the self-imposed restrictions and unleashes the creative potential.

Both of these studies underline the benefits of self-compassion on creativity and artistic achievement. So, next time you get stuck in your creative process, try this simple three-step self-compassion practice:

  1. Pause.The first thing we do is to just allow ourselves to feel what is present inside of us and acknowledge that we are experiencing something challenging.
  2. Remember that we are not alone. So many people have experienced something similar and challenging experiences are part of being human.
  3. Bring kindness to ourselves and our experience, through putting a comforting hand on our heart or saying something kind to ourselves.

If you would like to enhance your creativity through the power of self-compassion, sign up for the MSC Core Skills 4-session workshop starting August 10, 2022, presented by CMSC co-founders and Mindful Self-Compassion co-developers Chris Germer, Ph.D. and Kristin Neff, Ph.D. Learn more or register here or click on the photo.

 

References

Verger, N. B., Shankland, R., & Sudres, J. L. (2022). High Artistic Achievements and Low Emotion Dysregulation: The Moderating and Mediating Role of Self-compassion. Creativity Research Journal, 34(1), 68-84.

Zabelina, D. L., & Robinson, M. D. (2010). Don’t be so hard on yourself: Self-compassion facilitates creative originality among self-judgmental individuals. Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 288-293.

Mindful Self-Compassion Practices for Creatives

I’ve been sitting at my computer for days, wrestling with a question that is now starting to take on the weight of a Zen koan, though it appears logical enough: How does Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) serve the creative process and how can creative practitioners work with this? (If you are unfamiliar with the word “koan,” it is a short, pithy question or statement designed to awaken the mind and stimulate thought.)

There may be no definitive answer to a koan, however there is an obvious answer to the question of how to match the practices of MSC to the needs of people engaged in creative work: 1) recognize the nature of creativity, the creative person, and the personal and professional pressures one may be operating under, and 2) target MSC practices to the individual’s needs.

Lorelei Loveridge in her classroom, Saudi Arabia

Creativity and the Pressures that Creatives Face

Creativity as defined by Oxford Languages is “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” It is the mother of all powers, for the root word “create” means to “bring into existence.” This is no small task and for many artists and other creative professionals, the pressure to perform at a high level of excellence is inherent in the work. 

I know. I am a performing songwriter, publisher, theater and digital arts/media teacher, entrepreneur, arts manager, performance coach and writer. Everything I write here, I have lived: the ups and downs of a life in pursuit of creative achievement, recognition and accolades. It’s been a grand adventure, and at times it’s taken a toll. I also see this in my students and clients: the pressure to live up to the expectations not only of themselves but of others.

It’s worth noting that support for artists rarely targets the need for self-compassion as a core philosophy underlying one’s practice. Rather, the focus is all too often on finding self-esteem by way of achievement, and this can lead creatives in erroneous directions that promote self-criticism rather than self-compassion.  

Setting the Stage to Help Artists and Creatives Become More Self-Compassionate

First, one must realize that a budding personal passion is at the core of this work. It requires years of loving servitude to reach the point of being able to create impressive art and, if one chooses to, compete professionally. For many, the making of art involves learning from others, apprenticing formally or informally through a combination of self-study and imitation, and remixing ideas to create a new “thing.” Without nurturance, support, training and the resources to pursue one’s interests, self-doubt and frustration can interfere with the process and ability to create. The struggle to gain financial or immaterial (praise, applause) incentives for creatives can further increase insecurity and confusion over whether and how long to persist in the pursuit of a creative goal or professional career.  

There is no denying the nature of creative work will have an artist or creative entrepreneur striving on a journey to self-fulfillment. The journey is hard, beautiful, sometimes life-long and imbued with rewards and challenges. What will help is recognizing that the personal balance creatives must find can be fostered by practices that target the need for patience, strength and fortitude in the creative process as well as alleviate the stress, frustration, confusion and disappointments that can sometimes arise. Mindful Self-Compassion practices can support this process.

How Mindful Self-Compassion Can Help Creatives

The three components of Mindful Self-Compassion—Mindfulness, Self-Kindness, and Common Humanity—can especially help the creative person balance expectations, stay with the creative process, and manage setbacks as well as the pitfalls of accomplishment and the subsequent lows and ambiguity of new beginnings that can follow:

Mindfulness — Mindfulness practices including sitting and walking meditations as well as the ability to seek and appreciate beauty in unexpected places may aid creatives in “coming to” and engaging fully with ”structured play” in the present moment, and with releasing anxiety or overly demanding expectations in the early stages of creating. Affectionate Breathing is a core practice that groups often use to center an ensemble.

Furthermore, starting with what the artist needs in a given moment may be the perfect way to begin a working session and unlock creative ideas. Creativity often flourishes with the ability to make contact with, as well as, clear up feelings. Performers would benefit from asking this question, “What do I need?” before a performance, too, in order to make the micro-adjustments necessary to prepare for performance. Awareness of stress or a problem is said to be enough to shift a person into a better mental or physical state. MSC meditations, like a body-scan, can also calm the amygdala  and focus the performer.

Self-Kindness — It can greatly support creatives to know whether the motivating energy of yang self-compassion is needed to get things going or whether the friendly, comforting, nurturing yin self-compassion is needed to support whatever is happening. This can feel like a dance to a performing artist who must keep thoughts in check while encouraging oneself to do the best one can. Self-soothing through journaling can offer the artist a voice of support—one’s own voice or that of a cherished mentor/supporter. Journaling can have the added benefit of tracking and offering insights into the creative’s learning/working processes, much like a sketchbook is to a painter. 

Self-affirming, encouraging talk that is not tied to the need for accomplishment is essential for all creatives. When an MSC teacher is not present, artists can learn to do this for themselves, and must, because creating a piece of work can take time and a life-long creative career or quest is long! Creatives can also use lovingkindness meditations with soothing touch to set intention and soften the experience of difficult emotions at any stage of one’s creative process. The practice of softening, soothing and allowing can reinforce the ‘right’ or permission to feel whatever one is feeling at any one given point in time. This is important because judgment can stop artists in their tracks and kill creativity.

Common Humanity — Recognizing and appreciating the unique pressures of creatives, particularly live performers and presenters, will help them to remember they are not neurotic, crazy, isolated, or alone when they are most prone to questioning themselves. Setbacks and difficulties are real and significant. Normalizing challenges will help creatives to feel better, pace themselves and avoid harsh self-criticism and the effects of it. Offering artists and creatives MSC Circles of Practice and providing opportunities to explore reflective practices can help affirm that artists have both unique and common ways of living in the world and a language and lore for their experiences as defined by their cultural industry. Communities like this may very well have the added and unexpected benefit of further spurring on other creative opportunities.

Permission to Feel, Express, and Connect

It may be that the koan of how to support creativity and creatives with Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) practices lies in the inquiry and recognition of the pressures creatives work under. Permission to feel, express, and connect in whatever ways are possible further offers a way for artists and innovators to mitigate the hazards of a professional career and creatively practice in sustainable and more self-compassionate ways.

Lorelei Loveridge is an MSC Teacher, singer-songwriter, and Canadian expat drama teacher living in Saudi Arabia.


If you would like to enhance your creativity through the power of self-compassion, sign up for the MSC Core Skills 4-session workshop starting August 10, 2022, presented by CMSC co-founders and Mindful Self-Compassion co-developers Chris Germer, Ph.D. and Kristin Neff, Ph.D. Learn more or register here or click on the photo.

Self-Compassion And Quality Of Life Research

Self-compassion has been scientifically proven to improve our quality of life in so many ways. Below you will find the latest research showing how self-compassion supports wellbeing and sleep quality, and how it decreases anxiety, depression, self-criticism, and the feeling of loneliness. 

Self-Compassion As A Predictor Of Wellbeing (Pyszkowska & Rönnlund, 2021)
This study shows self-compassion to be strongly related to wellbeing measured as quality of life and satisfaction with life. To better understand the relationship between self-compassion and wellbeing, the researchers examined how self-compassion influenced participants’ relationship with the past and the present. From previous research we know that a person’s mood, behavior and morale depends on their current psychological view of the past, present and future. In this study the researchers were able to show self-compassion to support a positive view of the past and lessen a negative view of the present. These findings in turn predicted an increase in wellbeing. Read more…

The Impact Of Self-Compassion On Anxiety And Depression (Pérez-Aranda et al 2021)
In a study with 860 participants from Spain, Pérez-Aranda and his team found self-compassion to significantly reduce both anxiety and depression. Furthermore, the researchers found that the relationship between self-compassion and depression was mediated by resilience. This means that persons higher in self-compassion were also more resilient, which in turn explained the lower levels of depression. Read more…

Self-Compassion And Quality Of Sleep (Semenchuk, Onchulenko & Strachan, 2021)
We all know how important a good night’s sleep is for our overall wellbeing.To confirm the importance of sleep, research shows sleep to influence our mental, emotional and physical health, as well as our quality of life (Mukherjee et al., 2015). In this study, Semenchuk, Onchulenko and Strachan (2021) studied 193 university students and showed self-compassion to support the quality of sleep. The researchers were also able to show that self-compassion reduces self-blame, which in turn improves the quality of sleep. This finding suggests that the more self-compassionate students are, the less they rely on self-blame regulation strategies, which support a better quality of sleep. Read more…

Effectiveness Of Self-Compassion For Reducing Self-Criticism (Wakelin, Perman, Simonds, 2022)
In this review article the researchers evaluated the combined results of 19 self-compassion studies on self-criticism. Self-criticism is the process of negative self-evaluation. The results of this review show that practicing self-compassion significantly reduces self-criticism. The results also show that the longer the self-compassion practice time is, the more self-criticism will be reduced. Read more..

Self-Compassion Buffers Against The Feeling Of Loneliness (Borawski & Nowak, 2022)
Research shows that one of the key predictors of loneliness is the attitude we have towards ourselves. In this study the researchers found self-compassion to significantly reduce feelings of loneliness. This study also shows that individuals high in self-compassion are less sensitive to rejection. Rejection sensitivity is the anxious expectation of and increased readiness to respond to social rejection. Borawski and Nowak (2022) explain that it is partly through decreasing rejection sensitivity that individuals high in self-compassion experience less loneliness. Read more…

All these studies show how self-compassion can help us improve our day-to-day quality of life. To learn these skills, join Kristen Neff and Chris Germer in the upcoming Self-Compassion Core Skills Workshop.

Live Online MSC Core Skills Workshop with Chris Germer, Ph.D. & Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
August 10, 12, 17, and 19, 2022 from 8 – 11 am PT 

In this MSC Core Skills Workshop, you’ll learn techniques and practices to bring self-compassion into your daily life. Presented by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, this 4-session workshop is open to everyone, whether you’re new to MSC or have some experience. Registration closes on August 9th. Learn more or sign up here.

How Self-Compassion Transforms Queer Shame into Pride

We can turn shame into pride, but we cannot do so once and for all:
shame lives on in pride, and pride can easily turn back into shame.
– Heather Love

 

We queer folks are supposed to feel proud of who we are at the annual PRIDE events that traditionally kick off in North America in the month of June. And proud we feel as the world begins to look at us, see us, celebrate with us, and let us be who we are. We dance unashamedly and fervently at open air events, march at PRIDE parades, attend Drag brunches, and publicly and physically show our affection with newly found loves.

Yet, how long does this feeling of pride last? What do we feel once the festivities have ended? Is the lonely walk home from these events one of shame? Are we celebrating something ephemeral that fails to have a more lasting imprint? Does shame win? 

My exploration of self-compassion as a person who identifies as gay and who has taught mindfulness and self-compassion to the LGBTQ+ community for many years has shown me that it’s not a game of win/lose between shame and pride—it’s a “both/and” process of self-transformation that self-compassion illuminates and supports. 

I wish to claim that we need self-compassion to help us arrive at a genuine feeling of pride for who we are and a steady sense of self-worth and self-celebration. Self-compassion allows us to cultivate a place of strength and stability within ourselves where pride’s collapse into shame is not feared but held with love that we give to ourselves.

From an early age, queer children are made to feel like misfits with no place to be or grow, as they are shamed into nonbelonging. Traditional parenting styles alongside socio-cultural and regional messages of queer hostility have made shame an intimate companion to queer children that follows them into adulthood. Shame often becomes too painful for many queer folks to feel so they numb the feeling through excessive alcohol, partying, sex, and drugs, escaping from their physical body into their intellectual faculties, art, fashion, or anything that makes their lives beautiful when they are otherwise barely livable.

PRIDE season offers space, a sense of belonging, a sense of presence, a sense of being seen, a sense of pride as we engage in PRIDE activities and bust out our moves on the dance floor … before pride collapses back into shame in private moments.

It is these moments of collapse when self-compassion has our back. Self-compassion invites us to acknowledge and validate that this collapse of pride with emerging shame is hard for us (the mindfulness component of self-compassion). We are invited to offer ourselves kindness, friendliness, warmth because we feel shame, because it’s here (the self-kindness component of self-compassion). We are invited to remind ourselves that there is at least one other being out there, another “misfit” in our community, who must feel the same as we do (the common humanity component of self-compassion). We are able to meet ourselves with self-compassion when we are just not able to participate in PRIDE events because we feel too shy, too ashamed of who we are – when we feel too insecure to physically express our feelings with another person even though our body and heart long for this connection, when we feel ashamed of our bodies, our age, our ways of loving and our loves – when we we simply want to disappear and vanish into the earth.

Self-compassion is a practical tool to be with shame, with feeling inadequate, deficient, unworthy, not enough. And it is in being excessively kind and gentle with ourselves in those difficult moments that love begins to show up for us like a balm – soft and sweet – when our tenderness in being with shame kisses an emerging feeling of worthiness and appreciation for who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming. It’s in those tender and vulnerable moments when fierce self-compassion arises, makes itself known alongside tenderness, and we begin to feel proud, genuinely proud, of who we are and how we live in the world. Our capacity to be with shame expands and no longer defines who we are.

I, for one, have discovered a sense of pride through my personal practice of MSC. My experience of being an MSC student and subsequently becoming a certified MSC teacher and teaching LOMSC courses has given me opportunities to be with shame and turn towards childhood wounds to discover a strength within myself that I didn’t know existed.

I can now be found dancing at PRIDE events and beyond, carrying the momentum of PRIDE celebrations into my everyday life and teaching. There has emerged within me a steady sense of self-worth independent of what others think or say or do. And I get to share my pride with a community of fellow MSC practitioners that reminds me that I am not alone in my moments of shame or in my moments of pride. They have my back, and I have theirs. There is a new sense of community that has emerged for me, a new feeling of being in community that is one of genuine belonging.

Wishing you all a “HAPPY PRIDE!”

With love,
Markus

Acknowledgment:
To my fellow dancers, in particular Mary, Sydney and Mel, who have inspired this piece.

Markus Bohlmann (he|him) MA, MSc, PhD, is a certified MSC teacher, certified in MBCT, and a faculty member at the Center for Mindfulness Studies and Mindfulness Everyday in Toronto, Canada. He is the coordinator of CMSC’s worldwide translations of the MSC programs, member of CMSC’s DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) committee and team leader of CMSC’s Circles of Practice LGBTQIAP2S+ Affinity Group.

Learn more or register here for the LOMSC for LGBTQ+ course that Markus is co-teaching with Mel Wraight that begins October 13, 2022.


Bibliography

Bohlmann, Markus P.J., ed. Misfit Children: An Enquiry into Childhood Belonging. Lexington, 2017.

Germer, Christopher, and Kristin Neff. The Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide. CMSC, 2020.

Lassen, Christian. Camp Comforts: Reparative Gay Literature in Times of Aids. Transcript, 2011.

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard UP, 2007.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.

Self-Compassion Research on LGBTQIA+ Wellbeing

As we celebrate Pride with friends and loved ones in the month of June, we show support for people of all sexual orientations in our community and we come together as a society that rejects all forms of hate.

During this celebration it is important to acknowledge that LGBTQIA+ individuals still run a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges (McDonald, 2018; Fulginiti, et al. 2021). Research shows that self-compassion can support the general wellbeing of  LGBTQIA+ individuals.

One study found self-compassion to support wellbeing in self-identifying gay men and another study showed that self-compassion buffers the negative psychological impact of stigma stress on sexual minorities. A third study found self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals.


Self-Compassion is Positively Related to Well-Being in Self-Identifying Gay Men (Beard, Eames & Withers, 2017)

This study shows self-compassion to be a strength and a resource. The authors highlight self-compassion to be particularly meaningful for sexual minorities that sometimes face a paradox of simultaneous personal fulfillment and societal oppression for their sexual expression.This study found that of the six components of self-compassion, it was particularly the component of self-kindness that contributed to the wellbeing of self-identifying gay men. Here wellbeing is seen to include psychological, physical and relational wellbeing. The authors reflect that when gay men treat themselves kindly, it buffers them against stress and thus leads to wellbeing, and/or when they treat themselves kindly they handle stressors differently than someone who is prone to self-criticism. 


Self-Compassion Buffers the Negative Psychological Impact of Stigma Stress on Sexual Minorities (Chan, Yung, & Nie, 2020)

This study found self-compassion to function as a buffer against the negative psychological impact of stigma. Public stigma refers to prejudicial attitudes and stereotypical beliefs held by the general public toward individuals with socially discredited characteristics or behaviors (Mak et al. 2007) and stigma is known to adversely affect sexual minorities.

The authors of this study explain that the protective effects of self-compassion support LGB individuals to be less affected by the societal stigma and to be less likely to endorse their own self-stigmatizing thoughts. They highlight that the attitude of non-judgment and self-kindness in self-compassion may allow LGB individuals to reflect on their stigmatizing experiences without experiencing self-criticism and shame. Furthermore, self-compassion can remind them that challenging experiences are part of the common human condition and create a feeling of not being alone. Lastly, the inner attitude of self-kindness can support LGB individuals to give themselves genuine concern and care when stigma stress occurs.


Self-Compassion Buffers Against Depressive Symptoms for Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals (Samrock, S., Kline, K., & Randall, A. K., 2021)

This study shows self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals. The authors of this study highlight that transgender and gender nonbinary individuals often report higher levels of depression compared to cisgender individuals. They encourage health clinicians to take a strength-based approach to fostering mental wellbeing in their transgender and nonbinary clients. A strengths-based approach supports the identification of individual and relational factors that may mitigate symptoms of depression and they specifically underline the importance of self-compassion. The study further found that for younger participants with low perceived family support, self-compassion was particularly important in buffering against depressive symptoms.

All three studies highlight the potential and the power self-compassion holds for supporting the wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ population. In celebrating Pride, let us also celebrate and support wellbeing in the LGBTQIA+ community!

LGBTQI2S+ Affinity Practice Circle
Mondays 6PM Pacific Time

CMSC is pleased to offer a free weekly “Affinity Practice Sessions” for LGBTQI2S+ people. Please note that these sessions are only for those who claim these identities themselves and not for those who identify as “allies” of those with the identities.

Self-Compassion Research in Organizations: Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Outcomes

Self-compassion research is gaining ground in the organizational context. In a recent review article Dodson and Heng (2022) give us a lay of the land. In this review summary, we’ll look at the results to date on the effects of self-compassion on the individual within themselves (intrapersonal outcomes) and the results of how self-compassion is shown to affect others (interpersonal outcomes).


Intrapersonal outcomes

When it comes to mental and physical health in the organizational context, numerous studies confirm self-compassion to be associated with lower levels of burnout (Beaumont et al., 2016; Delaney, 2018; Duarte & Pinto-Gouveia, 2016; Gerber & Anaki, 2021; Gracia-Gracia & Oliván-Blázquez, 2017; Hashem & Zeinoun, 2020; Montero-Marin et al., 2016; Prudenzi et al., 2021; Schabram & Heng, 2022). For example Schabram and Heng, (2022) surveyed 130 nurses over a period of 3 years and found self-compassion to be associated with lower levels of exhaustion and Gerber and Anaki (2021) studied 109 professional caregivers working in a hospital’s intensive care and rehabilitative units and found self-compassion to be associated with reduced levels of burnout.

Studies have also found a significant negative relationship between self-compassion and depressive symptoms (Ghorbani et al., 2018; Kotera et al., 2019; 2021) and between self-compassion and stress (van der Meulen et al., 2021). Kaurin et al. (2018) found that self-compassion reduces the likelihood of negative thoughts leading to depressive feelings for workers exposed to traumatic events. Other studies have found a positive relationship between self-compassion and sleep quality (Kemper et al., 2015; Vaillancourt & Wasylkiw, 2019) and between self-compassion and health behavior change (Horan & Taylor, 2018).

Self-compassion has also been shown to improve resilience (Delaney, 2018; Franco & Christie, 2021; Kemper et al., 2015; Lewis & Ebbeck, 2014). Lewis and Ebbeck (2014), showed that self-compassionate workers were better able to draw upon their knowledge and resources when facing difficult decisions. Studies also link self-compassion with increased job satisfaction (Abaci & Arda, 2013; Voci et al., 2016) and job engagement (Babenko et al., 2019). 

 


Interpersonal outcomes

Research shows a strong negative relationship between self-compassion and compassion fatigue (Delaney, 2018; Duarte & Pinto-Gouveia, 2016, 2017). Please note that although many researchers still refer to this term as compassion fatigue, in line with suggestions by Matthieu Ricard and Tania Singer (Klimecki & Singer, 2012), in the context of Mindful Self-Compassion training, we refer to this term as empathy fatigue rather than compassion fatigue. Empathy is defined as “an accurate understanding of the [other’s] world as seen from the inside” (Rogers, 1961), whereas compassion is the ability to empathize, with the addition of warmth and kindness. If we just feel the suffering of others without having the emotional resources to hold it, we will fight against it and become fatigued.

Research also shows a positive relationship between self-compassion and compassion satisfaction, defined as the emotional reward of caring for others in a work capacity (Alkema et al., 2008; Duarte & Pinto-Gouveia, 2017; Hotchkiss, 2018). Furthermore, Henshall et al. (2018) found self-compassion to be positively related to compassion at work and Lefebvre et al. (2020) found that self-compassion increased group- and individual-level innovation by increasing a sense of feeling safe in relationships with team members. 

When it comes to self-compassion and leadership, Lanaj et al. (2021) found that self-compassionate leaders helped others more with both task-related and personal problems, and that they in turn were perceived as more competent and civil. Furthermore, Waldron and Ebbeck (2015) found that supervisors who self-reported higher self-compassion were rated as more effective leaders by their followers. Anjum et al. (2020) also studied how self-compassion influences interactions with co-workers and found that individuals with high levels of self-compassion experience less emotional exhaustion after negative interactions with coworkers. 

To learn more about self-compassion or to attend an upcoming In-Person or Live Online Mindful Self-Compassion course, visit https://centerformsc.org/lomsc.

 

References

Abaci, R., & Arda, D. (2013). Relationship between self-compassion and job satisfaction in white collar workers. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 106, 2241–2247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013. 12.255 

Anjum, M. A., Liang, D., Durrani, D. K., & Parvez, A. (2020). Workplace mistreatment and emotional exhaustion: The interaction effects of self-compassion. Current Psychology, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/ s12144-020-00673-9 

Babenko, O., Mosewich, A. D., Lee, A., & Koppula, S. (2019). Association of physicians’ self-compassion with work engagement, exhaustion, and professional life satisfaction. Medical Science, 7(29), 1–8. https://doi. org/10.3390/medsci7020029 

Beaumont, E., Irons, C., Rayner, G., & Dagnall, N. (2016). Does compassion-focused therapy training for health care educators and providers increase self-compassion and reduce self-persecution and self-criticism? Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 36(1), 4–10. https://doi.org/10.1097/CEH. 0000000000000023 

Delaney, M. C. (2018). Caring for the caregivers: Evaluation of the effect of an eight-week pilot mindful self-compassion (MSC) training program on nurses’ compassion fatigue and resilience. PLoS ONE, 13(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207261

Dodson, S. J., & Heng, Y. T. (2022). Self-compassion in organizations: A review and future research agenda. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 43(2), 168-196. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2556

Duarte, J., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2016). Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention on oncology nurses’ burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms: A non-randomized study. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 64, 98–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2016.10.002  

Duarte, J., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2017). The role of psychological factors in oncology nurses’ burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 28, 114–121. https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.ejon.2017.04.002 

Franco, P. L., & Christie, L. M. (2021). Effectiveness of a one day self-compassion training for pediatric nurses’ resilience. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 61, 109–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2021.03.020 

Gerber, Z., & Anaki, D. (2021). The role of self-compassion, concern for others, and basic psychological needs in the reduction of caregiving burnout. Mindfulness, 12(3), 741–750. https://doi.org/10.1007/ s12671-020-01540-1 

Ghorbani, N., Pourhosein, R., & Ghobad, S. A. (2018). Self-compassion, mental health and work ethics: Mediating role of self-compassion in the correlation between work stress and mental health. World Family Medicine Journal/Middle East Journal of Family Medicine, 16(1), 113–120. https://doi.org/10.5742/MEWFM.2018.93209 

Gracia-Gracia, P., & Oliván-Blázquez, B. (2017). Burnout and mindfulness self-compassion in nurses of intensive care units: Cross-sectional study. Holistic Nursing Practice, 31(4), 225–233. https://doi.org/10. 1097/HNP.0000000000000215 

Hashem, Z., & Zeinoun, P. (2020). Self-compassion explains less burnout among healthcare professionals. Mindfulness, 11(11), 2542–2551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01469-5 

Henshall, L. E., Alexander, T., Molyneux, P., Gardiner, E., & McLellan, A. (2018). The relationship between perceived organisational threat and compassion for others: Implications for the NHS. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 25(2), 231–249. https://doi.org/10.1002/ cpp.2157

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Acknowledging Our Many Names: My Experience of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

“Beyond right and wrong, there is a place. Here we can meet each other.”
Rumi

This November morning in 2017 was colder than I had expected it to be. It was our group’s first walk through the streets of Auschwitz 1. We were participants in a “Bearing Witness Retreat” with Roshi Bernie Glassman, who had been creating and leading these unique and meaningful retreats that take place in (former) places of war, hate, suppression and expulsion since 1994.  We were not yet aware, but it also became his last Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz…

Feeling the soles of my feet touching the cobblestones, my fists clenched deep in my pockets, I stayed a little behind our group to avoid speaking. I wondered what self-compassion tools I could use to calm myself as my heart was racing and my mind tried to comprehend the cruelty that once was present here. I brought my awareness to feeling the rhythm of my breath, consciously placing one foot in front of the other, accompanying every step with my breath. For comfort and support I found myself resting one hand on my heart and once in a while also bringing my other hand to the heart for additional support and protection. 

From this first silent immersion on the streets and around the buildings of Auschwitz 1, we continued to the desolate landscape of the ruins of Birkenau, which presented such an unexpected vast space. Being asked to avoid drinking and eating was surprising and became more and more unpleasant with each step. Beech and oak trees surrounded us and created a soft forest floor covered with autumn leaves. It stood in such contrast to the emptiness and grayness of this land in early winter. My mind wandered to how our children would love to play tag or hide and seek under the trees on the soft, mossy forest floor. I reflected on how often we are unaware of the history of the ground we place our steps on, unaware of the  injustices that might have taken place there. Our daily meetings in Council Practice became a pillar of relief for all of us. There we could voice feelings of anger, resentment, shame, confusion, numbness, grief and sadness, and listen to others share similar feelings. In these meetings I experienced a deep sense of common humanity, as we all experienced extremes and contradictions so close together. 

With each day that passed, less rational answers were available. The boundaries between “victim” and “perpetrator” started to dissolve; they didn’t seem to fit the size of the cloth anymore. Something new, unexpected, and intangible started emerging; the felt-sense of not knowing. It felt confusing and uncomfortable at first, but as my inner container grew it started feeling like the most natural way of being with each other and with oneself. At the closing circle on a meadow Roshi Glassman, sitting in a wheelchair, asked us what we had learned after a week of Bearing Witness practice. Our voices, one after the other, named the darkness of the human experience—the shadow, the horror, the incomprehensible… Roshi Glassman simply replied, “This is not what I meant for you to take away from this experience. Instead, I hope you experienced the preciousness of life.”

Bearing Witness in These Times  

I began the retreat, asking, “Where is the good?” I left the retreat learning that finding the good requires a conscious effort of seeing clearly and trying to understand deeply. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk of almost 96 years and a pioneer in interreligious dialogue, has sometimes described the incomprehensible that we humans are capable of doing to each other and that is embedded in the collective field as “something not yet good.” When we bear witness to Auschwitz, we become all the elements of Auschwitz—the good, the “not-yet good,” the known, the unknown. Then, with this awareness what we choose is no longer an act of will, but an act of letting go. When we are able to let go of the concept of who we think we are, we can enter into the space of not knowing. And not knowing is a place where change can begin.

Having grown up in Germany as “a grandchild of war,” I feel that our generation is called to look more deeply at and collectively start healing the trauma caused by war(s). Now, with  the war between Russia and Ukraine and other almost-forgotten zones of ongoing conflict where human beings are living their lives just like us who are reading this article, hopefully, we may wake up more and more to the preciousness of life that Roshi Bernie Glassman had referred to.

Practicing inner peace as a core value and a collective task and practicing self-compassion is not just for ourselves but for future generations who will once more have to live with the visible and hidden traces of war trauma. Learning to listen deeply and bear witness to ourselves, to each other, and to our planet Earth seems to be more important now than ever before, enacting what we yearn for—trust in life.

When we learn to hold the experience of both the victim and the perpetrator in our inner space, we may become more fully alive as human beings. Only then can we become “all the voices of the universe” – of those who suffer, those who cause suffering, and those who stand idly by. Because we are all those people as Thich Nhat Hanh expressed in his poem, “Please Call Me by My True Names.”

Please Call Me by My True Names – Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

If you would like to learn more about bringing self-compassion into your life or go deeper with your self-compassion practice, explore our different programs, workshops, courses and events at https://centerformsc.org/all-cmsc-offerings

“May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be free of suffering. May all beings live with ease.”

10 Self-Compassion Practices for the Crisis in Ukraine

By Chris Germer, PhD and Kristin Neff, PhD

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion Co-Founders

 

The world is in shock as Ukraine is mercilessly bombarded by its neighbor and thousands of innocent people are being senselessly killed or injured. No one knows how or when this crisis will end. The war is taking a toll on everyone, especially following in the wake of the global pandemic. Fortunately, nations are also pulling together to help Ukraine protect itself and individual citizens are opening their homes to refugees pouring out of Ukraine. 

Most of the world’s population is witnessing these tragic events through the news media, physically distant from the war. Questions naturally arise: “What can I do?” and “How can I take care of my heart and mind as this horrific humanitarian crisis unfolds before my eyes?”

Below are 10 self-compassion practices from the Mindful Self-Compassion program that can help you bear this terrible tragedy, along with brief explanations. Most of the practices can be found in The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and for those practices marked with an asterisk (*), free guided recordings are available on the CMSC website page, “Guided Meditations and Exercises.”

  • Giving and Receiving Compassion* – When we are exposed to disturbing news from Ukraine, we experience real, personal pain. That’s because the human brain is designed to feel what others are feeling. Of course, the people in harm’s way suffer much more than those who witness it. How do we access the resource of compassion in a way that excludes no one, including ourselves? The practice of breathing compassion in for ourselves and out for others can help us remain open to suffering on all sides, and emotionally connected despite the intense and disturbing emotions that may arise.  Please remember to breathe in for yourself as often as you need before breathing out for others. Also, if an impulse arises to follow your exhalation into some form of action on behalf of others, go ahead and do so. 
  • Self-Compassion Break* – This practice helps us to validate our pain (including vicarious pain), connect with common humanity, and bring kindness to ourselves—comprising all three aspects of self-compassion. First, we need to be able to say, “This is a moment of suffering” and to allow the experience to be as it is, at least for a moment. Then we remember, “I am not alone” and that everyone suffers, although not in the same way and to the same extent. After that, kindness is the most natural thing in the world. 
  • Fierce Self-Compassion* – When there is injustice in the world, there can be no lasting inner or outer peace.  Therefore, sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is to take a stand against oppression. That’s fierce self-compassion—protecting against the occurrence of suffering as best we can. The three components of self-compassion – mindfulness, common humanity and kindness – manifest as “brave, empowered clarity” when aimed at protection. When thinking about the injustice happening in Ukraine, we can use mindfulness to see clearly and be present with what’s occurring.  Common humanity allows us to become empowered as we stand together as nations in the free world.  And kindness manifests as bravery and courage, as exemplified by Ukrainians defending their homeland but also by those outside of the conflict being willing to make sacrifices to help those in need of protection. You can practice a Fierce Self-Compassion Break to cultivate this energy, if you like.
  • Compassionate U-Turn – To bring compassion to yourself, ask yourself, “How would I treat a friend or loved one right now who was feeling like I am?” and then do the same for yourself.  You can also offer yourself kindness in the form of soothing touch—gently touching or massaging the part of your body that is holding the most stress. Or you can offer yourself encouraging words—asking yourself the question, “What do I need to hear right now?” and then repeating those same words, over and over, for yourself.  
  • Soles of the Feet – When we feel emotionally overwhelmed, we need to anchor ourselves in the present moment. We suffer unnecessarily when we ruminate over the past or fret about the future. To come into the present moment, you can take a walk, feeling the changing sensations in the soles of your feet, and if you like, imagine that you are leaving a compassionate footprint on the earth with each step. You can also anchor yourself in the present moment with any of your senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. 
  • Affectionate Breathing* – Another way of staying present, and also receiving comfort when we need it the most, is by feeling the rhythm of our own breathing. Affectionate Breathing is less about developing concentration and more about allowing ourselves to be internally rocked and caressed by the rhythm of the breath.  If you notice yourself observing your breath, at a slight remove from the breath, see if you can just feel the physical sensation of the body rhythmically breathing in and out. This practice helps create a sense of inner safety and trust in the midst of an emotional storm.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation* – Loving-kindness meditation taps into the power of language, but also connection and caring. When you feel the suffering of the Ukrainian people, take a moment and see if you can find words that capture your deepest wishes.  For example, “May you be safe and free from harm” “May you be free from suffering.” Then, whenever you experience empathic distress, quietly repeat your phrases. To sustain your compassion, please don’t forget to include yourself in the circle of your compassion. And if you feel inspired to take action on behalf of the Ukrainian people, that will also benefit yourself.  When compassion is in full bloom, it is omnidirectional.  
  • Being with Difficult Emotions* – If you find that your compassion is becoming overshadowed by difficult emotions related to the war, such as anxiety or despair, or if you start demonizing a whole group of people because of the behavior of their leaders, you might try working with the emotion directly to prevent unnecessary suffering. Toward that end, try labeling the emotion in a kind and validating way, “Oh, I’m anxious!” Then see if you can bring your attention into your body and find where the emotion resides in your body. Finally, “soften—soothe—allow.”  Let the affected part of your body soften and relax, and then offer that part of your body soothing touch or kind appreciation: “There is so much pain here. Thank you for holding it for me.” You can also bring kindness to yourself, perhaps with a hand over your heart or supportive words (“You are feeling a lot of pain right now. Have courage.”).  Then see if you can allow the experience to be just as it is and allow yourself to be just as you are.
  • Core Values – No matter how disturbing events may be on the world stage, we do not have to abandon our core values.  For example, if compassion is a core value for you, you can continue to see compassion all around, even during a war, such as in acts of kindness by Ukraine’s neighbors toward the refugees. You can also help others to see what you see, sharing stories of compassion. Finally, you can do small acts of compassion in your daily life to keep the flame of compassion alive.  In other words, no matter what’s happening in the external world, you can remain true to your innermost promptings.
  • Savoring and Gratitude – When it is obvious that the suffering of others is much greater than your own, we must still give ourselves permission to enjoy our lives. Practicing joy is essential for anyone who wants to be of service to others. We have to charge our own batteries. We can savor simple things like a piece of fruit, stretching our legs on a walk, talking with a friend, or petting the dog. Gratitude is another way of enjoying our lives—noticing and giving thanks for the little things that enrich our lives that we tend to overlook, such as running water, morning sunlight, or chopping vegetables. The list is endless.

Any of these practices can help you to bear the emotional distress of a world in turmoil. They work by shifting our attitude and physiology from a state of threat to a state of care and connection. The most important thing is to remember to practice. When the distress of the Ukraine crisis reaches a point where you’re aware of how much you’re suffering, that’s the time to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion practice will also help you take the most useful course of action, if such is called for, based on the conditions of your life.

Thank you for embodying the healing power of compassion during these difficult times.

With Care,
Chris and Kristin

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If you would like to attend an online or in-person event with Chris and Kristin, the next available program where they are teaching together is the Mindful Self-Compassion Core Skills Workshop starting Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Learn more or register here.