It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.” (“Go Easy On Yourself, A New Wave of Research Suggest,” The New York Times, 2/28/2011)
One of yesterday’s most e-mailed articles on The New York Times website was this piece about what scientists are calling “self-compassion—how kindly people view themselves.” The message of the article is that the nicer you are to yourself, the healthier you’ll be.
The research doesn’t strike me as anything new. We all know it can be hard to live up to our expectations of ourselves, and when we anticipate falling short we often give up altogether. I’ve been there.
More interesting is this notion that those who find it easy and natural to be good to others are the very people who can’t be good to themselves. It’s as if there’s not enough kindness to go around, so you can either give it to friends or to yourself.
My first inkling of why this is comes from my many years of watching Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper trying to double as therapists. Year after year, the issue with the Biggest Loser contestants is that they spend so much time taking care of others they don’t take care of themselves. Or maybe it’s that they spend all their energy helping others. Either way, their self-compassion is in the pooper.
I would be doing readers a disservice if all my “be a good friend!” “reach out!” “socialize!” advice was followed at the expense of self-compassion. I want friendship to come more easily, certainly. But I don’t like the idea that the easier it is to be nice to others, the more you are likely to berate yourself.
So, if you see yourself in this research, first take the self-compassion test. See where you fall on the scale. If your score is low, the researchers suggest exercises “like writing yourself a letter of support, just as you might to a friend you are concerned about. Listing your best and worst traits, reminding yourself that nobody is perfect and thinking of steps you might take to help you feel better about yourself are also recommended.”
Basically, treat yourself as well as you’d treat your friends and you’ll be good to go.
Why do you think those who find it easy to be a good friend have a hard time being kind to themselves?