Kristin Neff is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting her first studies fifteen years ago. She is the author of
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and has co-developed an empirically supported eight-week
training program with Dr. Chris Germer that is taught worldwide called, Mindful Self-Compassion.

“Self-compassion entails both yin and yang — it is tender and helps us heal but it can also be fierce…” — Kristin Neff

What activity makes you feel most alive? 

I love teaching people about self-compassion and helping them to find ways to practice it.  You can actually see the transformation on people's faces. It's beautiful - the discovery that they have this secret power that they didn't even know existed.  I am fed and nourished by being able to help in this transformation.

What initially drew you to the work you are doing now?

In my last year of graduate school I went to a class to learn mindfulness meditation to deal with my stress, and the woman leading the group talked about the importance of self-compassion.  When I tried being kinder and more supportive to myself it made a huge difference. Then I did a postdoc with a leading self-esteem researcher and learned about the problems linked to the endless pursuit of high self-esteem:  perfectionism, aggression, narcissism, and the contingency and instability of self-worth. It seemed to me that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to self-esteem because you don't have to be perfect or better than others to have it.  So in 2003 I published the first papers defining and measuring self-compassion, and now it's a huge field of study.

What is most commonly misunderstood about self-compassion

There are actually five main myths about self-compassion that come up over and over again:  it's a form of self pity, it's selfish, it's self-indulgent, it will undermine your motivation, and it will make you weak. Luckily now there's a large body of research showing that's untrue. Self-compassion makes you less self-focused, improves relationships, leads to healthier behaviors, increases motivation and grit, and provides strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Self-compassion entails both yin and yang - it is tender and helps us heal (yin) but it can also be fierce, taking action to protect and provide for ourselves as well as motivating change (yang).

How do you want to be remembered

I feel so blessed to have played a role in bringing self-compassion to the attention of science and the world at large. I would like to be remembered for this. I'm also now working on how fierce self-compassion can help women stand up to sexism and injustice, and it would be wonderful if I could also be remembered for playing some small role in the overthrow of patriarchy. :-)

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This article is part of our series on the theme of Compassion.

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