UC Berkeley Institute of Personality and Social Research

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Why It Helps To Give Yourself a "Mental Hug"

Are you being too hard on yourself? It may be time to pause for a moment and give yourself a "mental hug". As part of a series of campus-wide events held for this year's Reunion and Parents Weekend at Homecoming, Dr. Serena Chen presented research on self-compassion, which involves taking a kind attitude toward yourself in order to avoid getting swept up in waves of negativity. Self-compassion involves three components:  being kind toward yourself (rather than self-critical); taking a mindful, balanced approach toward your negative emotions; and recognizing that your plight is part of a shared human experience. 

Speaking to an auditorium full of Berkeley parents, alumni, students, and other interested listeners, Serena described a series of studies that she and her graduate students have conducted demonstrating that self-compassion encourages people to improve themselves. For example, in one study, participants were first given a 'rigged' test:  it was deliberately designed so that everyone would fail abysmally. Afterward, a subset of participants were induced to think about their failure with a self-compassionate mindset. These were the people who, in a later phase of the study, spent longer studying for what they thought would be a second difficult test. Thus, it seems that reflecting upon a past setback with a nonjudgmental, kind attitude toward yourself motivates you to improve in the future. 

After the talk, many audience members expressed interest in learning more about interventions that help promote self-compassion in daily life. Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, maintains a thorough website with resources, links, and event listings for those interested in self-compassion.