A research called ‘self-compassion’ suggests that accepting imperfections may be the first step toward better health.
People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.
On the other hand, self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight loss plan, according to Jean Fain, a psychotherapist at Harvard Medical School.
Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion may help some people lose weight. A study in 2007, suggested that even a minor self-compassion intervention could influence eating habits.
Researchers found that women who were regular dieters or had guilt feelings about forbidden foods ate less.
Meanwhile, people who find it easy to be supportive of others often score surprisingly low on self compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures.
Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas and pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.
Dr. Neff found in her research that the biggest reason people are not more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self indulgent and they believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.
When people find themselves struggling at work or gaining weight, many fall into a cycle of self criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.
Dr. Neff has developed a scale of 26 statements meant to determine how often people are kind to themselves, and whether they recognize that ups and downs are simply parts of life.
For those low on scale, Dr. Neff suggests exercises, like writing yourself a letter of support, 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.