The Neuroscience of Self-Compassion: Changing Our Judgmental Default

Dr. Carol Chu-Peralta, Ph.D.

Something most of us have in common is self-judgment. We teach our kids to be kind to others, but we are not so kind to ourselves. Think about it! When is the last time you asked yourself, “How do I talk to myself?”

Neuroscience research on self-compassion has grown throughout recent decades and has taught us that treating yourself with kindness is one of the most effective ways to boost your mood. It is incredibly efficacious in helping us learn, feel less anxious and depressed, and reach our goals faster.  Yet, by adolescence, most of us default to shame and self-criticism the moment we make a mistake or feel inadequate. We define ourselves by a behavior and let it represent who we are as a whole. When we speak to ourselves in a negative way, it releases stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol), but when we speak nicely to ourselves, it releases pain-relieving and ‘happy’ hormones (endorphins and dopamine).

Self-compassion is not akin to self-esteem or ignoring our personal inadequacies, failures, or foolish actions. Self-compassion does not involve self-evaluations or social comparisons. Rather, self-compassion requires self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. These components mutually interact to create a frame of mind that is self-compassionate. Self-esteem is great when you are doing well, but it does not do us justice when we are not doing well. Self-compassion is always there for us – when we are doing well and when we are suffering.

Self-Compassionate Mindset

Self-compassion is a skill and requires practice. You have probably spent close to a lifetime practicing self-judgment, so understand that building the skill of self-compassion will take consistency and patience.

Here are 4 steps for developing a self-compassionate mindset:

  1. Notice When You Are Judging
    • Make a game of it and write down how often you notice yourself being self-critical in one day. Raise your awareness!


  1. Name It To Tame It!
    • Name the emotion you are feeling in the moment, without judgment. When you name your emotion, it starts to pump the brakes on the amygdala’s (part of the brain that releases stress hormones) reaction, which in turn helps to calm the nervous system down. You can’t be kind to yourself until you know what you are feeling!


  1. Bring Kindness To Yourself
    • If you were hurt, how would the person who loves you the most respond to you in that moment? Put your heart on your hand (it releases the ‘feel-good’ chemical of Oxytocin) and speak to yourself in a kind way using the voice of the person who loves you the most.


  1. Send Your Compassion Out
    • Think of all the other people in the world who are suffering the same as you right now and send them some compassion. Sometimes the 3rd step is the hardest step for us, so try doing number 4 first if number 3 is too hard.


Written By: Dr. Carol Chu-Peralta, Ph.D.
Published By: Pascack Hills Neighbors

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