“Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering – that of others or ourselves – and can be ferocious as well as tender” Kristin Neff.
The concept of self-compassion has evolved in the last few years. Kristin Neff, Chris Germer and Steve Hickman started discussing in 2018 the Yin and the Yang sides of self-compassion, proposing that we each need to embody the male and female aspects of self-compassion. Often when we think of compassion, we have an image of “yin” gentle compassion, comforting and nurturing but there are situations which call for actions, for the “yang” compassion to motivate, to protect, to remedy or to provide.
In this blog, I wish to share with you how Mindful Self-Compassion is including concepts of "gentle-nurturing" as well as "fierce-protective", explaining how men and women equally need to develop fierce mindful self-compassion. Gentle and fierce are two necessary sides of compassion to promote wellbeing and resilience.
Much research has demonstrated that when we become more adept in self-compassion, in caring and nurturing for ourselves, we can manage our life with more calm and heal ourselves. But Kristin Neff and Chris Germer have pointed out that there is also a fierce side of self-compassion that is also necessary for us to adopt in order to survive and thrive.
In difficult situations where we are deeply impacted, upset and hurt, we often don't know how to react. We may feel surprised, shocked and frozen into inaction or filled with anger and act aggressively. The practice of self-compassion gives us courage, so we can begin to ask: "What can I do to defend, to protect, to remedy in a skilful and effective way?"
The purpose of the Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion is to enable us to see the situation with clarity and compassion to give us the courage to act skilfully and effectively to defend and to protect ourselves or others. In the self-compassion program, we present tools to build the two crucial complementary aspects of self-compassion.
The receptive Yin side of self-compassion shows us how to soothe and comfort our self when we are in pain or struggle, so we can access a sense of a loving, connected, supportive presence within ourselves or with those we care about which strengthen us. The active Yang side of self-compassion enables us to see the situation with clarity and courage, to protect our self, to defend and stand strong, uniting with others, in the face of danger, hostility or harm.
In Mindful Self-Compassion we cultivate the full spectrum of the Yin and Yang of compassion were being kind is also being strong. As we become more self-compassionate, we gain confidence and inner emotional resilience, so that when we face a crisis, we become more Yang, being motivated to act, to protect, to defend or to correct as required.
In this informal interview with Chris Germer, Linda Graham asked how self-compassion promotes resilience. Chris Germer defines self-compassion in terms of the two qualities of Yin and Yang. The Yin quality of self-compassion is when we are "being with" ourselves in a comforting and nurturing way, where we meet to our needs with warmth and care asking ourselves "What do I need?" especially when we experience difficult emotions. The Yang refers to the quality of acting in the world, to take protective or remedial actions. That is when we say "no to harm" with courage and wisdom, not out of hate or fear but because we care.
You can also buy on Sounds True a short course of On The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion presented by Kristin Neff:
Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty
In this article, Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff discuss ways to deal compassionately with the anger that arises when we face injustice. In the practice of mindfulness, they point out, that we reduce emotional reactivity by making space for the anger while choosing a compassionate response. We can hold and express our different point of views, still being fully aware of our interconnection with each other, without harbouring hate for others who think differently. We can choose to engage in actions that care and protect, creating safe boundaries and removing the threat without being unduly hostile. Acting with wisdom as well as with compassion, is when we endeavour to act for the benefits of all beings, even though, sometimes we may be preoccupied with our specific needs and preoccupations that may clash with others. Higher core values are a guide of what is overall in the best interest of everyone including ourselves.
In this article, Kristin Neff reflects on how the practice of mindful self-compassion can differ in different circumstances. There are times when we need the “yin” of self-compassion, that is to be with our struggle with loving awareness, to care for ourselves, while at other times, we need the “yang” of self-compassion to assert our views and take actions, to seek justice, not out of hate but more because we believe it is in the best interest of ourselves and others. Here Kristin Neff call for “fierce self-compassion” when we need to say: “No! it’s enough! Stop!” and we take effective actions to promote the safety and wellbeing of ourselves and of others that we care about.
In this article, Steve Hickman, points out that men need to practice self-compassion in a way that feels right for them. Steve explains the Yin and Yang of self-compassion from the perspective of a man. Compassion is not always a soft approach. The yin side of self-compassion is comforting, soothing, and nurturing which many men don’t readily identify with. But when the yang side of self-compassion is presented such as taking actions to protect, provide and motivate, they see the yang side of compassion which is more active and more stereo-typically masculine. Men can identify more with self-compassion practices that are dedicated to stand up and to act skilfully, to stop what is dangerous or unjust. Self-compassion also helps us to stand up to the harsh inner critic(inner bully) and to motivate ourselves in an encouraging way. The practice of self-compassion is a practice of goodwill where we are cultivating a different relationship with ourselves and our experiences in life which is empowering for us all in a way that feels right for ourselves.