My first 18 months of sobriety, I was quite active in AA.
So, I heard plenty of admonitions, chidings and warnings, usually as part of general meeting talk, about “pity parties” and “pity pots.”
A note of clarification to any commenters: I am not saying AA-based slogans are either good or bad, whether as used in AA or in Lifering. A slogan is often shorthand for a larger idea, anyway, and the idea that stands behind the phrase “pity pot” is what I am addressing, and what I hope readers address, too.
Years later, I still know what those phrases mean. And, I still occasionally hear them, or at least the ideas, in Lifering meetings.
But, some new psychological research says that maybe we need to stop worrying so much about “pity parties” and instead have more concern about how kind we are to ourselves.
A LOT more concern, including learning it as an important life skill.
This is NOT the “give every kid an A to boost self esteem,” the study makes clear. In fact, it notes that that technique often backfires, and can lead to neuroticism, emotional fragility and narcissism.
“It is not this nimby, bimby stuff,” said Paul Gilbert, a researcher at Kingsway Hospital in the United Kingdom. “Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of self and others and a commitment to do something about it.”
Kristin Neff, an associate professor of psychology and the mother of an autistic child, writes about cultivating self-compassion from her own parenting experience as well as her professional background, in the just-published book, “Self-Compassion.”
She lists three aspects to it: mindfulness, common humanity and kindness.
Mindfulness, whether done as a full meditative practice or not, is as Neff describes it, accepting emotions without either suppressing/blocking them OR fixating on/attaching to them.
Common humanity is, to riff on another old phrase from “the other folks,” recognizing that our hurts and pains aren’t “terminally unique” either.
And, kindness is kindness to ourselves as well as others.
The LiveScience authors go on to note that self-esteem of the type I stereotypically mentioned above still have a competitive and comparative element to it. Self-kindness does not.
And, speaking of competitiveness, other researchers, the story notes, believe that as the pace of modern Western life accelerates, self-punishment will likely increase.
But, won’t being kind to ourselves a lot lead to a temptation to “let ourselves off the hook”? No, but that’s been anticipated too:
(A)ccording to Neff, the most common fear about becoming self-compassionate is that it will lower performance standards and encourage laziness. But researchers have found that self-compassionate people are actually less likely to sit on the couch all day eating bonbons.
So, lighten up. Especially on yourself. And let’s encourage each other on this.