Earlier, I explained that there are three factors that indicate whether people are resilient. For this post, I want to go back to the second resilience factor, discussed previously, about not being too hard on yourself.
Many of us attack ourselves when we are down. Here are some words Harvey Dorfman, a major league pitching coach heard his extremely talented athletes apply to themselves: “idiot,” “loser,” “dummy,” “gutless,” and “I stink,” “I can’t,” “I don’t have it,” and “I’m clueless.” Notice that these are nasty and inaccurate. Even if on a given occasion they had made a mistake, they wouldn’t be major league pitchers if they were losers, idiots, etc.
Recently Glamor Magazine did a survey of women’s attitudes toward their bodies, and here are some things the surveyed women had to say about themselves: “You are a fat, worthless pig.” “You’re too thin. No man is ever going to want you.” “Ugly. Big. Gross.” Ninety-seven percent of surveyed women had at least one such thought per day and, on average, the women had close to one of these thoughts per waking hour.
As a full-time professor I used to lecture on overweight, obesity, and weight loss. I always marveled at the intense attention students, especially women, gave as I spoke. Very lovely, well-formed women whom any sensible person would see as attractive were intensely interested in how to lose weight. And they were more than willing to listen to a paunchy professor tell them how to do that!
People who tend to speak abusively to themselves diminish their level of resilience, and so presumably lose at least some of the many advantages of being resilient. We are talking, after all, about the second most important resilience factor.
If, when under stress, we are nasty to ourselves, we just ratchet up the mental and physical stress reactions, and slow our recovery.
Recently the New York Times ran an article centering on the work of Kristin Neff on Self-Compassion. By going to Dr. Neff’s website, I saw that this topic has been the subject of a lot of research, not just by her, but by many others. Somehow I had missed it, despite my constant efforts to find everything relevant to resilience.
Her work took me one step further in clarifying what that second resilience factor is. It is about being compassionate toward yourself. To me that feels richer than merely putting an end to being mean to yourself. Compassion is not just the absence of meanness. It implies treating yourself in a caring, understanding, and loving way.
I am going to end this post with a valuable quotation from a paper by Dr. Neff that clarifies the concept of self-compassion:
“If individuals are self-compassionate when confronting suffering, inadequacy or failure, it means that they offer themselves warmth and non-judgmental understanding rather than belittling their pain or berating themselves with self-criticism.”