Fierce Self-Compassion with Kristen Neff [Podcast]

Posted on April 12, 2023 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Self-compassion isn’t for quitters. Did you know that self-compassion actually increases responsibility and resiliency. On this episode of my podcast, I explore the science and practice of self-compassion with Kristin Neff, PhD, one of the world’s most influential research psychologists and a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research. Dr. Neff shows how compassion and accountability go hand in hand.

Watch my top three takeaways video, listen to the audio, or read the transcript.

What’s In This Episode

  • How Kristin got interested in studying self-compassion.
  • How is self-compassion different from other kinds of compassion?
  • What are the three components of self-compassion?
  • How self-compassion increases responsibility, agency and resilience.
  • What’s the difference between fierce and tender self-compassion?
  • Why is self-compassion more stable than self-efficacy or self-esteem?
  • What are the workplace benefits of self-compassion?

Fierce Self-Compassion Highlights

Listen To The Audio

Read The Transcript

Voiceover: Are you tired of the negativity and drama? Are you trying to make a difference only to be drained by people problems? The world needs more compassion, not just more civility and empathy. We need in the trenches compassion that struggles alongside people instead of against them. We need a radically different way to engage for breakthrough results. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Nate Regier.

Dr. Nate Regier: My podcast features people who are leading the way to bring more compassion to the workplace. Some of my guests have been leaders in companies who are doing the tough work of culture transformation. Some are thought leaders who have published books on the topic, and some are researchers who are moving the needle on the science of compassion. My guest today has a pulse on all three of these. She’s a researcher, an author, and a business owner. In fact, she’s been recognized as one of the world’s most influential research psychologists.

I’m so honored and happy to have Dr. Kristin Neff with me today. Dr. Neff is a pioneer in the study of self-compassion. She was the first one to operationally define and measure the construct almost 20 years ago. Dr. Neff received her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently an associate professor of educational psychology at UT Austin. In addition to writing numerous academic articles and book chapters on the topic, she’s author of the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and her latest, Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive.

In conjunction with her colleague, Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an empirically supported training program called Mindful Self-Compassion, which is taught by thousands of teachers worldwide. She’s also co-founder of the Nonprofit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Kristin is bringing compassion to the workplace in so many different ways. Kristin, welcome to On Compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Thank you, Nate. Very happy to be here.

Dr. Nate Regier: Thank you so much for giving of your time. You are involved in so many things and making a difference in so many ways. I would like to just take us all the way back and have you tell us a little bit about how did you get interested in this field of self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Right. Well, actually back then, it wasn’t a field, but it was a practice. It was my last year of graduate school at University of California Berkeley. So, that was about 1995. Basically, I was experiencing a lot of stress after getting my PhD, “Would I get a job?” The job market was very tight. Also, in my personal life, I had gotten a divorce and I was feeling just a lot of self-doubt and wasn’t in a good place. So, I learned mindfulness meditation because I had heard it was good for stress. Fortunately, for me, I went to a sangha taught in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen teacher who always talked a lot about the importance of turning compassion inward as well as outward.

So, way before I learned how to meditate, I got the idea that you can be intentionally kind and supportive to yourself when you’re struggling, which I was. It made such a huge difference. So, for me, it really started as a personal practice. Then many years later, I did get a job at UT Austin and I decided to operationalize it and measure it and start researching it. But the idea, I certainly didn’t originate the idea.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah. Well, it is different though. Self-compassion is specific. Will you explain a little bit the difference between self-compassion and maybe other forms of compassion that we’ve heard about?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Well, yeah. Well, most people think about compassion, they think of compassion for others and people also are more readily compassionate to others than themselves. I really don’t see the definition of compassion as different in terms of whether it’s applied toward the self or others. I have a three component model of compassion. One is mindfulness, being able to turn toward and be with pain. You have to do whether that’s others or oneself. Response with kindness, warmth, support, the desire to help in some way to alleviate suffering. That’s the same with self and others. Also, really importantly, again, same for self and others, is that things are framed in light of the common human experience. As opposed to pity, if you pity someone, you feel sorry for them. They’re separate.

If you pity yourself, you feel sorry for yourself, you feel separate. What makes it compassion is the sense of, “Hey, everyone, this happens to everyone. We’re all in this together.” So, the connectedness is, at least the way I define it and I think the way Thich Nhat Hanh defined it, in terms of interdependence and how even our suffering and the way we respond to it is all part of a larger interconnected whole. I think that’s also crucial to self and others. So, really the definition of compassion for self and others is the same.

The difference is our culture tells us it’s good to be compassionate to others. It doesn’t tell us we should be compassionate to ourselves. I think also evolutionarily, there’s some reasons why it’s easier to be compassionate to others than oneself.

Dr. Nate Regier: Wow. I want to come back later. I actually have a question I want to talk to you about around your new book, but also about this idea of cultural messages about compassion and who it’s for. You just keep saying, “Self and other, self and other.” So, in your work, you reference the origin of the word compassion. I love this. It comes from the Latin root meaning to suffer with or to struggle with. There’s a certain equality implied in this, but let’s unpack that. What does suffering with look like?

Dr. Kristin Neff: So, you can think of suffering with other people. You could also think of being with suffering. I think it goes both ways. So, ironically, being with suffering is the mindfulness component. In other words, a lot of times, we don’t want to be with our suffering. We want to pretend it’s not there. We want to fight it, scream at it, or suppress it. In order to have a compassionate response, we need to be able to turn towards suffering. I mean, if you think about when you have compassion for people and when you don’t, you have to be willing, ready, and able to turn toward and be with the pain. If it’s too painful, we often just tune people out. I mean, think of homeless people.

People don’t want to see them. Whereas our good friend because we care, well, when they call us up and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling,” we tend to be more lucky to listen. We can turn toward their pain. So, that’s the being with suffering. But suffering with, if you look at it that way, is also a type of connected stance. In other words, we aren’t alone in our suffering. We all suffer, we’re all imperfect. That’s also, again, very important, differentiating it from some pity. Then the kindness comes in the passion, which of course means to suffer. The kindness comes in terms of the desire to alleviate suffering. In psychology, a pretty standard definition of compassion is concerned with the alleviation of suffering. So, that also really has to be there. Otherwise, it’s something else.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah, just this morning, I actually came from working with a group of educators and it’s hard. Being in education is so hard right now. When we started working with this group, they just talked about what was going on at work and they didn’t talk about their struggles, their suffering. As the group’s gotten closer, they’ve started sharing what they’re dealing with in their personal lives, wherever. The irony or the powerful part of this is that when they start sharing that, it’s not like they can make each other’s pain go away, but simply being with each other in the suffering somehow makes it a safer place, a more energizing space and gives them more energy to engage.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. Because normally what happens is we fall into the illusion of thinking it’s just us. It’s not logical, but illogically, everyone else is living in a normal, i.e. problem free life. Because I’ve got problems, my life is abnormal, I’m abnormal, there’s something wrong with me. So, that really greatly exacerbates our suffering because not only are we hurting, we’re alone and something’s wrong with us. It makes things that much worse. So, just lifting that sense of isolation is huge in terms of making it hurt a little bit less. It doesn’t make it go away. You’re down on the floor, but at least you aren’t kicking yourself when you’re on the floor.

Dr. Nate Regier: Well, if compassion is about with suffering or suffering with, then maybe when we get into our own, we suffer alone. That’s really scary and isolating.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It’s really scary and isolating. Again, evolutionarily, lone monkey is a dead monkey. If we feel alone, it just makes things a lot worse. It’s also not true, which is the good news in the sense that it’s a fallacy that we just have to remind ourselves of.

Dr. Nate Regier:  So, the focus of my podcast is compassion in the workplace where we are also in the context of we have to get stuff done. I think sometimes people might worry that self-compassion means giving yourself a free pass. Don’t worry about failure. Anything goes. I know that’s not the case. Will you help correct that misconception for us?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. Actually, that’s the number one block to self-compassion. People really think they need to be tough on themselves, harsh with themselves, cold to themselves, and to not be supportive at all. Otherwise, they’ll give themselves a break. They’ll lower their standards. It’s a complete fallacy. Sometimes what you need is to give yourself a break, but sometimes what you need to do is pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try harder. Because if the goal is to alleviate suffering and giving yourself a break or just letting things slide means you’re making it worse for yourself, you are not being self-compassionate. So, what we know very clearly now from the research is self-compassion is a more effective motivator than self-criticism, especially in the long term.

So, criticism works in the short term, it might get you worried, it may make you pay attention, it may give you a little energy, but shame is not exactly a motivating mindset. When you’re full of shame or self-criticism, you’re actually taking up so much of your working memory space that you don’t have room left over to notice opportunities. It makes it harder to learn from your failures and your mistakes. It can lead to performance anxiety, which undermines your performance. It can undermine your self-confidence, which also undermines your performance.

So, just to say, we have a study where we just sent in the second round of revisions. I’m expecting it to be accepted very soon, where we taught self-compassion to NCAA athletes. These people, they’re at the top of their game, their scholarships are riding on it. They can’t be second best. They have to be number one in order to keep those scholarships and hopefully go on to pro-athletics. Very high stakes. So, what we found is by teaching them self-compassion, and by the way, we didn’t call it self-compassion just because we didn’t want to deal with the unnecessary backlash. We just called it inner strength training or resilience, but all the same concepts were exactly the same.

What we found is that by learning how to be more understanding and warm and, really important, supportive when they made mistakes . . . a really important part of compassion if you care is giving people productive feedback, constructive criticism. It’s not compassionate to say, “Oh, you’re doing fine,” when really you aren’t, especially if you’re an athlete. What you need, what helps the most is saying, “Here’s what you can do better.” So we framed self-compassion as a way of giving self-constructive, productive feedback from a good supportive coach, not a coach that just cuts you down and calls you names. What we found is it increased athletic performance, both self-rated and coach-rated performance. So, it works.

Dr. Nate Regier:  Wow.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It increases performance. It doesn’t undermine it.

Dr. Nate Regier:  I have three daughters that have all played NCAA volleyball at a high level and I can’t wait to get my hands on this article, because we see that to be true anecdotally. That’s so true. So, let’s talk about this notion of accountability. So, our research in Next Element, we’re focused on this concept of compassionate accountability and we’re trying to reconcile the misconception that these two are somehow in tension with each other. I don’t believe that they can exist without each other. We often say that compassion without accountability gets you nowhere and accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Is this fierce compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff: It is very much like fierce compassion. So, I’ve been talking lately about the difference between tender and fierce self-compassion. So, tender self-compassion is about acceptance of people, acceptance of ourselves, acceptance of others as human beings worthy of respect and support. But just because we accept ourselves or others does not mean we accept behavior because if behavior causes harm, it goes directly contrary to the meaning of compassion. So, the tender self-compassion, which is self-acceptance, is needed in order to say, “Okay, I made a mistake. I really screwed up. I need to change my behavior.” Because if you don’t have the acceptance of the self, if you conflate your behavior and yourself, then you aren’t going to own up to mistakes you’ve made.

You’re going to try to dodge it. You’re going to try to blame other people. It’s going to be too painful to see what you’ve done, own up, and repair it. So, you’re going to try to avoid it as long as possible. So, knowing that just because I made a mistake doesn’t mean that I’m a mistake is essential for being able to see your mistakes and repair them. Again, lots of research shows that self-compassion allows you to take more responsibility for past mistakes and be more motivated to try to repair them.

Fierce self-compassion is taking action in the world, picking action to alleviate suffering, either by protecting or motivating change or providing for needs. Acceptance is about acceptance of the self and also your emotions, the fact that you hurt. Okay, I can accept that, but of course, I want to do something about it. It wouldn’t be compassionate if I didn’t.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah. Well, so often if maybe we validate our experiences and that’s great, we are okay the way we are and our experiences are legitimate, but that’s not the end of it. We’re also agentic capable human beings that can get involved in problem solving. We also have a calling and a responsibility to make a difference in the world.

Dr. Kristin Neff: That’s right. Well, a really good analogy is being a good compassionate parent. Hopefully, as a parent, you love your child unconditionally, but hopefully as a compassionate parent, you don’t let your kid get away with everything and skip school and harm other people. That would not be compassionate. So, we know in parenting, the difference between loving someone as a person and trying to correct their behavior in a way that’s healthy is exactly the same with ourselves.

Dr. Nate Regier: Well, I think we’re saying the same thing, that compassion, it’s not like now we’re compassionate, now we’re going to go hold people accountable. They’re the same thing. They’re not-

Dr. Kristin Neff: It’s the same thing.

Dr. Nate Regier:  It’s the same thing.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It’s not compassionate to let people off the hook, because it causes suffering. It’s an oxymoron really.

Dr. Nate Regier:  I want to go off script here. I wasn’t going to bring this up, but I am, because I talked about you and I talked about you in my new book, Compassionate Accountability. This whole thing about alleviating suffering, here’s where I get stuck on it. Help me out here. I grew up the son of missionary parents in Africa, and one of the biggest problems we saw was missionaries coming in trying to alleviate suffering and making things worse because the way in which they helped undermined capability, undermined dignity, and created dependence. How do you reconcile that?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Well, because they aren’t really alleviating suffering. So, it was just ineffective. Maybe they are well-intentioned, but it was ineffective. That’s the thing you have to see clearly. Is this helping or not? So for instance, when it comes to emotions, the desire to change emotions, to pretend it’s not there, to resist it actually causes suffering. It doesn’t alleviate it. So, the desire is there, there’s the desire to help, and then there’s what actually does help. Ultimately, if you’re open-minded and openhearted, you want to see what actually does help. So, accepting your emotions while making changed behaviors is actually what works. So, in the case of the missionary parents, they weren’t doing what they wanted to do.

Dr. Nate Regier:  Right, right.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Also, it may be that you see a lot of times, what happens when people try to alleviate the suffering of others, they’re really focused on alleviating their own distress.

Dr. Nate Regier: They are.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Because they don’t have the self-compassion to say, “This really hurts. Can I just be with this really uncomfortable situation? Can I be okay with not knowing how to solve it? Can I be with feeling helpless but have my heart open so that I can be ready to take whatever action when it becomes clear that it will help?”

Dr. Nate Regier: Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate that and it helps connect some dots for me. So, self-efficacy is a concept I’m sure you’re familiar with. I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I think sometimes people confuse self-efficacy with self-esteem. You mentioned that people often confuse self-compassion with self-esteem. Let’s unpack these self-concepts. Will you get some clarity here for us?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. So, self-esteem, the word esteem is to value, to evaluate, to esteem highly or poorly, a higher level. So, it’s really a judgment or evaluation of self-worth. Self-efficacy is the belief that you’re competent and you’re effective at the actions you take. Compassion is a way of relating to yourself with kindness, sense of connectedness, and mindfulness. So, all three of these actually provide a sense of value and worth. Self-esteem, most often, it’s a conditional sense of self-worth that comes from people liking me, succeeding, and not failing, looking the way want to look. Theoretically, self-esteem can be unconditional, but most people don’t have unconditional self-worth. So, self-efficacy is also an important source of self-worth.

People feel like they’re effective, they’re doing well, they’re competent. It’s one of the big three, competence, relatedness, and autonomy. You probably know Deci and Ryan. That’s also a really important sense of self-worth. Again, the slight downside is if you don’t feel like you’re being effective, your worth can lower. The worth that comes from self-compassion is unconditional. It’s like it’s the baseline. Because even if I’m not effective, even if I don’t judge myself positively or people rejecting me or I don’t like the way I look or I fail, because with self-compassion, your worth is intrinsic to being human. The only thing you’ve got to be worthy of compassion is a human being. So, if you’re an AI bot, all right.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah, yeah, sorry.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Then you can also talk about animals. But at the very least, the very minimum, the way I’m defining it is just a human being. So, that’s your baseline. Making mistakes, failing, getting it wrong, not being effective, being rejected. That’s precisely when self-compassion steps in to say, “Hey, it’s human, it’s part of the experience. What can we learn from this? How can we grow? How can I support you through this?” So, you might say it’s a stable form of self-worth.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah. Thank you for that. Your research is starting to show evidence that it is a source of resilience and agency and efficacy.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Absolutely.

Dr. Nate Regier: It’s like the buffer or the anchor in the storm when all those other things come along to try to bounce us off center around our self-worth, self-compassion says no.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It’s intrinsic.

Dr. Nate Regier: It’s intrinsic.

Dr. Kristin Neff: It’s not like the others aren’t important. It’s important to try to have a high sense of self-esteem. It’s important to feel like you got self-efficacy and to feel competent. All those things are important. But without, you might say, the bottom line of self-compassion, it can be unstable.

Dr. Nate Regier:  I can see why this is so powerful for college athletes because the evaluative component is so intense and they’re at a developmental stage where comparison is so linked to identity, maybe not quite as bad as high school, but it’s just a horrible place to be.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Well, especially if they’re a college athlete. I mean, they’re ranking you literally. It’s very, very explicit.

Dr. Nate Regier:  I only had girls, so I would say it’s very hard for girls as well. So, let’s talk about your book, because your new book, Fierce Self-Compassion, really is talking about how women can overcome the barriers of our history, including patriarchy, gender role socialization. I know the books also can help men, but will you tell us why this book is so important and so needed for women right now?

Dr. Kristin Neff: By the way, just to clarify, I’m not talking about biological sex or gender identity, if you’re trans or you’re non-binary. I’m really talking about gender role socialization, the shoe boxes society puts people in that causes great harm, whether you’re socialized as a man or a woman. Okay, so the overall thesis is that we need both fierce and tender self-compassion to be whole. It’s like yin and yang. If we’re too fierce without being tender enough, we’re just striving, we’re never good enough. If we’re too tender without being fierce, we might be complacent. So, we need both to be in balance.

Unfortunately, gender role socialization penalizes people raised as boys if they’re too tender. We know the incredible harm caused to boys. If they’re sensitive, if they cry, they’re bullied. This really psychologically harms boys. So, just to call that out. But the opposite is true for girls. If they’re too fierce, if they’re too agentic, if they’re too competent, then there’s a little mortal leeway for tomboys, but once you get into an adult . . . . You wonder why the glass ceiling still exists? Well, it’s because you have to be super competent and agentic to succeed, but people don’t really like competent and agentic women because they think they aren’t nice, they aren’t likable, and then they get paid less and they aren’t promoted.

Also, a big problem is, for instance, owning our anger, speaking up, rocking the boat. Patriarchy would really prefer and did prefer woman to be compliant, to just say yes, to focus on meeting everyone else’s needs, to not get angry at their treatment. Oh, that’s just the way things are. It’s really the history of power and oppression that’s linked to female gender role socialization. But the reason I wrote the book for woman is it was just too much to say, “Well, for people raised as men, it works this way. For people raise as women, it works that way.” So, I just decided to focus on people raised as women. I’m hoping someone else will write the book about people raised as men, because I think in some ways, it’s almost even more harmful. It’s more restrictive.

But really this is something that we all need. We all fierceness and tenderness. The gender role stereotypes fit this almost exactly. It’s called communal and agentic. Communal is tender. Agentic is fierceness. So, it’s not a new dichotomy. The thing I’ve done is described the dichotomy, how it plays out in terms of self-compassion. That this is an ancient dichotomy. The fact that we’ve gendered it causes a lot of harm in my opinion.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yup. Thank you for that. We’ll put links in the show notes to where you can learn more about the book and get all of this. So, one of the one things I’m interested, of course, is the business case. What are you seeing about how this works in business and why we should care about this?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. So, it’s a newer field of research. So, if you go on my website, I categorize things according to category and there’s a smaller section on self-compassion at work, but there is some data. So, one thing we know for instance is it reduces burnout, which is really important, because in general, self-compassion reduces burnout two ways. A, the fierce helps you draw boundaries. I mean, the tender helps you resource yourself so you aren’t just giving, giving, giving, and not taking it all for yourself. It reduces turnover rates, because basically, what happens in the workplace context is when people get overwhelmed by their stress at work, they don’t show up or they might quit or they might have mental health issues which hurts work.

There’s work showing that it increases work-life balance, right? Because again, when you care about yourself, you’re going to understand that you need to have some balance. Otherwise, it’s unsustainable, which infects the workplace. To be honest, I’m not sure. I want to say there’s a study that it shows it increases workplace productivity, but I’m not going to say that for sure, because there’s a lot of data. There’s almost 5,000 studies now. So, I won’t say that, but you could look it up and find out.

But basically, just like any realm of human endeavor, it’s helpful, especially because we know it increases motivation and it increases sustainable motivation without burning out. I mean, the workplace these days, burnout is a huge problem. So, the fact that self-compassion can allow you to get things done in a way that’s less likely to lead to burnout is huge for any context, I think.

Dr. Nate Regier: So, the more we’re talking about fierce self-compassion, the more I want to name the elephant in the room, which is conflict. That none of this is going to be possible without embracing conflict in some way.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Absolutely.

Dr. Nate Regier: What are you seeing and learning? What advice would you have about where does conflict fit in all of this?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. Well, that’s the fierceness, standing up for yourself. I have a whole chapter on anger. Anger can cause suffering or can alleviate suffering. If you’re a parent, if someone’s attacking your kids, you are going to be angry and you are going to rise up like mama bear and you’re going to say no and you’re going to protect your kids. That actually alleviates suffering. So, anger at injustice or unfair treatment or harm. Here’s the thing, is the way you’re expressing anger causing more suffering or alleviating it? The big difference is, are you aiming it at the behavior?

Again, same distinction, the behavior or the person. The person is probably doing the best they can, given the resources they have, their culture, all these factors. No reason to hate or direct the anger at the person. But the behavior might need a very clear, “No, that’s not okay.” So conflict still arises, but the conflict hopefully is based more on the issues involved, the behaviors, what’s happening, as opposed to saying, “You’re bad, you’re the enemy,” that type of thing, which actually doesn’t help.

Again, there’s not a lot of research on that. I did one study early on where I looked at interpersonal conflicts with parents or family members or partners, romantic partners. What I found is self-compassionate people were more likely to come up with compromise solutions. So, in other words, they didn’t subordinate their needs. They didn’t say, “Okay, to avoid conflict, yeah, fine, do whatever you want,” but they also weren’t my way or the highway. It was about, “Okay, your needs are important and my needs are important. How can we try to come up with a win-win solution?”

Dr. Nate Regier: Love that, love that. Compassion by its nature is activated when there’s a gap between what we want and how we think things should be. Suffering exists in this gap, so there’s going to be conflict. There’s just going to be conflict. I sometimes think that conflict might be one of the most untapped yet prevalent energy sources in the universe. We just misuse it, but man, there’s a lot of energy there that we could be channeling with compassion to create amazing things.

Dr. Kristin Neff: I actually talk a lot about that in my book Fierce Self-Compassion. By the way, also admitting that I’m not great at channeling it correctly all the time, but I talk about the Hindu goddess Kali. I’ve got a picture of her in my bedroom. So, she’s this warrior goddess and she’s depicted as holding all these severed heads with her foot standing on bodies. It’s really scary, but the thing is, what is she severing? Why is she severing heads? Well, she’s cutting through the illusion of the separate self if you really want to unpack the meaning of it. So, the illusion of separation that actually causes suffering. Anger and the conflict is an incredibly powerful energetic source. If you think about it, women’s anger is suppressed. People do not like it when women are angry.

With men, people think, “Oh, he’s passionate.” People are more likely to believe an angry man and less likely to believe an angry woman. Why? Because with anger goes power, because it is a source of energy. Now, again, run amok, it’s not helpful, of course, but the energy itself can be very helpful as long as it is aimed at alleviating suffering. If anger is harnessed as a force to alleviate suffering, it’s actually an expression of compassion and it’s hard for people to get their heads around that. The Dai Lama might not even agree. Not all people may agree with me, but that’s what I think.

Dr. Nate Regier: Yeah, Fierce Self-Compassion, I know this book is packed with permissions and strategies and invitations and tips to start breaking apart some of the misconceptions and history that’s keeping us down and from expressing full compassion. One of the downsides of a podcast like this is we skate across the surface on things and then we just hit these gems. We could probably talk an hour just about anger and the way we see it and express it. Your website, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a website more full of helpful tools and resources than yours.

Talk about resourcing the world. Your body of work is remarkable, and you’ve done such a good job of bridging the gap between academic research and practical. So, often when I talk to academicians and I’m a research psychologist by training, I spent my whole career trying to make things understandable again, but you’re so good at that. I’m curious, where would you suggest someone start? Where should they start to just go dabbling here?

Dr. Kristin Neff: Yeah. Well, that’s why I did make my website a resource. I mean, I’m lucky I got in early, right? So if you Google self-compassion, I’ll come up. All the algorithms because they got in so early lead to me. So, I think they took it as a responsibility to try to make it accessible. So, for instance, I don’t know if I can do it much longer, right now, I try to update my website twice a year for the PDFs of actual research articles by category and it’s a ton of work. We’ll see how long I can sustain it. I also have a lot of scales available, because I knew that if I made it as easy as possible for researchers to find the literature, to get the tools they need, then more people are going to do research and that’s the case.

Similarly, I tried to have it as much as possible, as much free guided meditations or practices, information toward person. So, when they Google self-compassion, they go to my website and they immediately have a place to start and they can start practicing. Then if you want to go further, I co-founded with Chris Germer, the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. You can take a long training. We have books out. I do short trainings.

The last 10 years or actually 12 years, I’ve mainly been focused on how to teach people to be more self-compassionate. I don’t need to research anymore. I know it works. At this point, the research has kind of, I shouldn’t say this, but not very interesting. We know it helps. Do we really need to know a moderated mediation model of la, la, la? It’s not very useful or interesting.

Dr. Nate Regier: Let’s go teach people.

Dr. Kristin Neff: What’s really interesting is practicing it and seeing for yourself how it impacts your ability to deal with the tough stuff. The only way you’ll know is by trying it out.

Dr. Nate Regier: Wow. What a great last thing. I was just going to ask you to wrap it up here. Is there anything that you really wished I would’ve asked you or something that’s just burning for you right now that you care a lot about?

Dr. Kristin Neff: No, I think we covered a lot, but maybe just to say self-compassion, it’s so many things. It is a way of engendering mental health, more productivity, but it’s also a spiritual practice. I mean, really what you’re doing with self-compassion is you are opening your heart, you’re opening it up to love and kindness, your own, a sense of interconnection, a sense of presence with what is. These are the things that most people are looking for when they want the greater meaning in life.

So, it is political in terms if you do the fierce self-compassion, but it’s also spiritual. It’s also pragmatic. It’s so many things and really not relating to suffering well is where we get into trouble. So, it’s worth so much putting a little effort into practicing relating to the suffering in a healthier manner because the payoff is huge.

Dr. Nate Regier: We will have all these links and resources. Well, we just need one link, which is to your website because you go there, you can get everything you want. Kristin, thank you so much for your time, for your passion. I can tell how much you love this and how much you care and how deeply you’ve thought about this. Thanks so much for being here.

Dr. Kristin Neff: Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun.

Dr. Nate Regier: Here are my top three takeaways from a delightful conversation with self-compassion pioneer and guru, Dr. Kristin Neff.

First, compassion involves three kinds of being with. We know that compassion originates from the Latin root meaning with suffer. Kristin explained that this is expressed in three different ways. Being with our own suffering means being able to turn towards it instead of avoiding or running away from it and accepting it in a non-judgmental way. Being with each other means showing empathy and support with others who are suffering and being with humanity recognizes that we’re all interconnected and interdependent in our suffering and can work together to alleviate it. These three types of being with really emphasized for me the connectedness of compassion and also the importance of being able to be open and vulnerable with each other.

My second key takeaway is the only way to really help is to be open-minded and open-hearted. I asked Kristin to help me reconcile the problem of trying to alleviate suffering in ways that just create dependence or undermine people’s dignity. We call that rescuing. Her answer was that’s not compassion, because you aren’t actually alleviating the suffering. You might be trying to solve some problem of your own, but it’s not really helping the other person. Kristin explained that unless we enter the relationship with an open heart and an open mind, we can’t see clearly on how to best help them and we can end up imposing our own solutions and helping in ways that don’t really alleviate suffering in the long run. Sometimes it actually makes it worse.

Finally, self-compassion increases sustainable motivation without burning out. This is the crux of the business case. Kristin listed several scientifically supported benefits of self-compassion, like reduced turnover and better work-life balance. What I found most compelling though was her finding that it increases sustainable motivation without burning out. The fierce part of self-compassion helps people set boundaries, and the tender part helps them resource themselves to get the support they need. The result is they can continue to be productive at a high level while also being healthy at the same time.

Voiceover: I hope you enjoyed this episode of On Compassion with Dr. Nate. If you found new hope or guidance for your life, will you share it with your tribe? If you know someone who could be a great guest, please let us know. Are you ready for a practical way to bring more compassion to your organization? We have a solution. Visit Check out the show notes for links and contact information and remember to subscribe, rate, and give a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening. Until next time. Keep your compassion mindset engaged.

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