Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach.
Henry: Hello. I'm Henry Emmons.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Welcome to Joy Lab, where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on our elements of joy, the positive emotions and interstates that become the building blocks for joyful life. So the element we're digging into today is compassion. Specifically, self-compassion. We're working on that second part, or second aspect [00:01:00] of self-compassion noted by self-compassion researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff, which is self-kindness versus self-judgment. We discussed the first, mindfulness versus .Over-identification, in the last episode, it's not totally necessary to listen to that one before this. Um, but it could be helpful. If you feel drawn to this episode, though, just stick with us, you can go back later. So let's get into it.
Self kindness versus self-judgment. I like how Dr. Kristen Neff illustrates how self-kindness takes shape. On her website, SelfCompassion.org, she writes: "Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, [00:02:00] failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. So they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want.
When this reality is denied or fought against, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration, and self criticism. When this reality is accepted, with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced."
So I think we can all probably resonate with those experiences, ignoring our pain, beating ourselves up by self-criticism. We are so hard on ourselves.
Henry: Yeah, I can relate to that. And I also think that we access a lot of healing power when we practice [00:03:00] self-compassion. I really can't think of many emotional problems that would not be helped by it. So depression is a good example. And depression is such a complex condition. I don't think a lot of us fully realize that. But there's never, almost never, just one
cause for it. There's almost always more than one way out of it too. But after years of running the resilience training program and really decades of working with patients, I am convinced that there are two factors that are most likely to really break that long term cycle of depression. And actually there's probably three, really, if you count sleep. Which I talk about all the time, it's just really important, but we're gonna save [00:04:00] that for another day. So those other two factors are self-kindness and
breaking down the sense of isolation. And they really go hand in hand, I think. Because when you begin to treat yourself with greater kindness and compassion, it opens you up to creating more meaningful relationships. So start with yourself. Being friendly to yourself, allows you really to be friendly toward others.
And it's not just my observation here, that, that tells us how helpful this is. There's just a ton of data coming out about how much people with mood and anxiety disorders benefit from practicing self-compassion. And I really like using the word practicing here because the beauty of this is that it's not just a nice [00:05:00] idea. It is a practical, teachable, learnable skill.
Aimee: Yeah. I also like the word, practice, because it reminds me there's no perfection here. Always opportunities to practice. Uh, we got into a bit of that last episode. And that is absolutely the case as well in the research, looking at the impact of self-criticism, harsh, self-judgment negative self-talk. All of those things are positively correlated with self-reports of depression and anxiety.
So that means when they go up the likelihood of depression and anxiety go up. It's pretty clear. It's interesting because I think we all know that intuitively. It's like the message we keep coming back to. But there's so much surface-level resistance to it. All these messages of sort of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps, toughening up, you know, these [00:06:00] feminine qualities of self care and self kindness get made fun of. When in fact, they are the essentials, the basics to our survival, our joy, and even success, you know, defined by corporate productivity standards. Uh, studies here show that folks who score higher on self-compassion tend to procrastinate less and they learn from their mistakes more quickly. They tend to work harder after a perceived failure.
They can still see when they screw up, that's the quality of mindfulness we talked about last episode, but they're more likely to do something positive about it compared to someone who is less self-compassionate. There's also fascinating research looking into the power of self-compassion to reduce levels of stress-induced inflammation and considering stress and pain are primary costs in our healthcare system,
that is huge. I could go on and on the point [00:07:00] here is that the message that you have to be tough on yourself that you need self-criticism to move forward or take action is false. Hard stop. So let's explore the other side of that for a moment. Even if that self-criticism self-criticism works and you take action after a perceived failure, you beat yourself up into it,
it can easily become an energy that fuels action built on social comparison or retribution or revenge. And I think we've all experienced how that turns out. Generally not great. Been there.
Henry: In our last episode, we talked about how our unconscious, negative thinking really creates a lot of our emotional suffering. And I mentioned how many thoughts we have over and over again, repeating them, without even realizing that we're doing it.[00:08:00] Well, I think one of the most common and most destructive patterns of this unconscious thinking involves self-judgment. We can be just brutal toward ourselves. Much more
so than we are toward others. So we have talked about this metaphor in the past, it's called the first and second arrows. But this is a really good time to revisit that just briefly. So this is a Buddhist concept that I think really informs a lot of mindfulness therapy and practice and why it's so helpful for us emotionally.
So very quick. If you imagine you're a soldier in battle back in the days of bows and arrows, and you're out in the battlefield, which means that you're out there engaged with your life, really. You [00:09:00] are at risk of being hit by an arrow. In other words, living your life, you are sometime going to be hurt or wounded.
And that is known as the first arrow. You can try to become really adept at avoiding these arrows, knocking them down. And that's a good thing to do, but you can't completely avoid it. It just comes with the territory. But then imagine that after being struck by that first arrow, instead of doing something to heal or take care of yourself, you take another arrow out of your own quiver and you poke yourself with it.
That is what's known as the second arrow. And that is essentially what we're doing when we judge ourselves for making a mistake, for doing something wrong, for being hurt or wounded. Um, we're adding to the injury. [00:10:00] We're adding suffering to that core of pain that we had already and couldn't entirely avoid because of our thinking about it and our judging of ourselves.
Aimee: Yeah, I'm just pulling out little arrows while you're talking here, Henry. I'll share an example, actually that maybe others can relate to here that still kind of cracks me up today after quite a few years. It's really how self-judgment can send loads of arrows in, compounding the assault. So I had a... it is still cracks me up!
I had a big interview for a fellowship that I really wanted and I was fairly confident that I could get the fellowship. I had some self-esteem going on. But I had put so much pressure on myself. Totally convincing myself if this didn't happen, that there's no way I'd meet my mission to make a difference in this world.
You know, all of this big backpack coming in of burdens here. And I had six interviews during the [00:11:00] course of one day. And I headed into the first and the interviewer asked this weird question about buying a new home in the state. This was completely out of left field for me. I had over-prepared for all of this stuff.
I had a hundred percent expected to be asked. I had just like reams of stuff in my head about theories and behavior change, blah, blah, blah. At some point, the first arrow hits, I'm being asked a question that I don't know the answer to. I don't know the answer that the interviewer wants to hear is what I'm thinking.
So I stumbled around for like 10 minutes asking him weird, clarifying questions about the housing market. I then went on a tangent about the health impacts of wider roads and more trees in neighborhoods. And amidst my monologue, I could tell the interviewer was visibly bored or confused or both which freaked me out even more.
Maybe that [00:12:00] was the first arrow. But then came the rest. So that mean voice in my head started to perk up and shout, " Get your crap together! What are you talking about? You're completely bombing this! If you don't get, if you don't get this, all of your education was a waste of time. You're done. You're gonna end up on," as Stuart Smalley would say from last episode, "I'm gonna end up on the street penniless." It just went on and on and on. So now I'm feeling desperate. I've lost my self esteem. And I have to save this interview is what I'm thinking. It's everything for me. And that voice just kept going in my head and I could feel my face getting red and my voice shaking.
And I rambled on for another 15 minutes. At one point I remember freaking out again because I couldn't remember what the interviewer's question was. But I felt like I was too deep in, so I couldn't ask. And after 25 minutes, the interviewer stops me and says, "So would you buy the house?" And I realized that was really the [00:13:00] only question he asked me, like a yes or no question.
So I said, "Yeah." And then he replies, "Looks like that's all the time we have good luck on the rest of your interviews." I was like, oh
my God, what have I done? Of course that wasn't the end of that interview in my head. I continued to replay that interview. What he had said. I was thinking, ah, he didn't mean that he shocked you got into the door for this interview.
He's gonna tell everybody how terrible you are before your next interview. You blew it. You're done. This is my head. So just like 25 minutes earlier, I was somewhat confident in my abilities, but had definitely put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. And now heading out the door, I felt like a total imposter.
I was completely deflated. All thanks to that little mean voice in my head. And I wanna tell you all I do, that I practiced self-compassion that I practiced mindfulness and [00:14:00] self-kindness and all the things we get into here at Joy Lab. But I didn't that day. That voice took all the air out of me that day.
And I seriously crashed every single one of those interviews. After that one, with my mean girl voice, driving me through each one. And I didn't get the fellowship
Henry: Aimee, I can feel how that must have been painful. And I, I suspect we've all been there, right? Maybe not this exact kind of situation, but you know, something really similar. And when we're in that situation, we start asking questions, like, "Why did I do that? Do I just have some kind of, you know, self-destructive vendetta against myself? Is my self esteem really that bad?" Do I even want this [00:15:00] fellowship or this job or this relationship or whatever it is.
And you know, the, the real point of the metaphor, the, the first and second arrow metaphors is not only to realize that we do this to ourselves, but also to realize that we can learn something different. We can have some leverage.
We, we cannot stop ourselves from being hurt or wounded in this life. But we have a lot to say about what we do with that, how we respond to it. But I think one of the ways we respond to it, often is kind of what you described, Aimee. And I think any of us, if we looked hard enough inside, we would find some dark place inside that we think needs some serious work.
You know, we need to be fixed. And I wanna say something really clearly right now. So listen. [00:16:00] Don't do it. Just don't do it. I know. I sound like Bob Newhart right now, "Just stop it." But honestly, if any, one of us had an experience like yours, Aimee, and then went looking for what's wrong with us, I guarantee you will find something. But it is just another distortion.
It's another lie. There is not a dark scary place inside of ourselves that needs to be fixed. I think we just do things like this because at that moment in time, we simply couldn't do any better. That's all there is to it. It's like we were driven by an evolutionary need to be vigilant, to protect ourselves.
Or maybe we just got caught up in, in an old insecurity, you know, some past experience that might have left us a little [00:17:00] traumatized like yours, you know, probably did. So, none of this, sorry, Aimee, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing with you.
Aimee: Oh no,, I'm laughing at both. I'm here with you.
Henry: None of this is as real as we think and practicing self-compassion in this case, it's so simple and it's so profoundly helpful. Really, all it takes is don't beat up on yourself for having blown an interview. Don't think that there is something deeply flawed about you that needs to be fixed. Just don't give any attention to those kind of thoughts and they will fade away into the background.
Aimee: Yeah, they, they do fade when you don't feed 'em. Which wolf are you feeding? We discussed that way back in episode two. I also love the invitation that I [00:18:00] can do better and I don't need to be fixed. What an opportunity there. That's the power of self-kindness or self-compassion. And there's also a bit of humor that helps me here.
I do like to laugh at that story, um, and in the situation. So back to my story quickly. It was interesting after that experience because I was headed home on the airplane that day. It was Valentine's day, ironically, a day of love. And I was thinking, geez, I was a total jerk to myself. It was such a moment for me because I had.
Really come a long way in my negative self talk, shaking off shackles of perfection, you know, as we talked about last episode, sort of being able to catch when I was veering into chaos or rigidity. But at this moment it came roaring back and I could see the direct impact of it. Just chucking those arrows into myself the whole time.
And it highlighted for me how, when [00:19:00] I let that voice of harsh self-judgment and self-criticism take the wheel, it always crashes me. It's not clear-headed. It's like the most talkative nagging, rude, mean drunk person that you've ever met. And we've all had that person shouting us at us in our heads. Uh, would you take that person on a road trip?
Would you let them coach you for your interview? Would you let them drive? And that's sort of how I treat that voice now. Like a drunk backseat driver. And I'm an Uber or Lyft. They hopped in my car. I don't even know how they got there and I'm going to drop that mean voice off as quickly as possible. I might even laugh at some of the ridiculous things I hear.
I'll let them blather on, but I don't have to listen. So some, a little bit of that humor has helped me hold that voice and then let it go, um, and dismiss it. So maybe let's end with a bit of [00:20:00] humor. A lot more wisdom, of course, from poet, Mary Oliver showing us what self-compassion might look like after you've made a huge mistake.
It's called, "The Poet With His Face In His Hands." You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world doesn't need anymore of that sound. So if you're going to do it and can't stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can't hold it in, at least go by yourself across the 40 fields and the 40 dark inclines of rocks and water to the place where the falls are, flinging out their white sheets like crazy,
and there is a cave behind all that jubilation and water fun, and you can stand there, under it, and roar all you want and nothing will be disturbed; you can drip with despair all [00:21:00] afternoon and still, on a green branch, its wings just slightly touched by the passing foil of the water, the thrush, puffing out its spotted breast, will sing of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
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