July 30, 2018

Kristin Neff explains why you need to kiss the Golden Rule goodbye

Self-compassion pioneer shares steps to living a happier, healthier life in keynote talk on Aug. 9
Kristin Neff teaches how to start practising self-compassion in keynote on Aug. 9.

Kristin Neff teaches how to start practising self-compassion in keynote on Aug. 9.

Kristin Neff

The Golden Rule teaches us that we should treat others how we ourselves wish to be treated. But what if this age-old principle is nothing more than a direct route to being friendless and alone?

Dr. Kristin Neff, PhD, quickly adopted this mindset after attending a meditation class and realizing how powerful being kind to yourself can be. Since that initial spark of curiosity, Neff has carved out a career as a pioneering researcher of self-compassion, publishing several books on the topic and developing an eight-week program to teach self-compassion skills.

“We often treat ourselves more harshly and cruelly than anyone else,” says Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The good news is that most of us have learned the skill of being a caring, supportive friend to others, so once we give ourselves permission to treat ourselves the same way, it’s easier than you think to be self-compassionate.”

Self-compassion is different than self-esteem

While high self-esteem can be a desirable trait, Neff points out that for the majority of people, attaining it is impossible. “Having high self-esteem requires feeling special and above average,” she explains.

“It’s logically impossible for every human being to be above average at the same time, so we begin to engage in a process of social comparison in which we continually try to puff ourselves up and put others down to feel superior.”

For example, bullies generally have high self-esteem because picking on people they perceive as weaker than themselves is a quick way to boost their own self-worth.

If bullying isn’t bad enough, Neff says that when we fail to meet our own impossible standards, we tend to crucify ourselves with criticism, causing our sense of worthiness to plummet.

So then, how do we feel good about ourselves, without suffering from low self-esteem or hurting those around us? According to Neff, the answer to this conundrum is self-compassion.

“Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves when life goes awry or when we notice something about ourselves that we don’t like,” she explains. “It recognizes that the human condition is imperfect so we feel connected to others when we fail or suffer. It also involves mindfulness — the recognition and non-judgmental acceptance of painful emotions as they arise in the present moment.”

Neff shares how to practise self-compassion on Aug. 9

While practicing self-compassion isn’t something you’ll learn overnight, in Neff’s view, it’s well worth the effort and leads to a happier, more balanced outlook on life. “Instead of endlessly chasing self-esteem as if it were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we should encourage the development of self-compassion,” she says.

“That way, whether we’re on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap, we can embrace ourselves with a sense of kindness, connectedness and emotional balance.”

The Science of Self-Compassion keynote delivered by Kristin Neff is presented by the Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) in partnership with the Faculty of Science and the Campus Mental Health Strategy. This event is supported by the Campus Mental Health Strategy grant program.