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Mindful : February 2019
are deactivating the threat-defense system and activating the care system. Oxytocin and endorphins are released, which helps reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security. Fear vs. Truth FEAR: Self-compassion will make us weak and vulnerable. TRUTH: In fact, self- compassion is a reliable source of inner strength that confers courage and enhances resilience when we’re faced with difficulties. Research shows self- compassionate people are better able to cope with tough situations like divorce, trauma, or chronic pain. FEAR: Self-compassion is really the same as being self-indulgent. TRUTH: It’s actually just the opposite. Compassion inclines us toward long- term health and well-being, not short-term pleasure (just as a compassionate mother doesn’t let her child eat all the ice cream she wants, but says, “eat your vegetables”). Research shows self-compassionate people engage in healthier behaviors like exercising, eating well, drinking less, and going to the doctor more regularly. FEAR: Self-compassion is really a form of making excuses for bad behavior. The Physiology of Self-Criticism and Self- Compassion When we criticize our- selves we’re tapping into the body’s threat-defense system (sometimes referred to as our reptilian brain). Among the many ways we can react to perceived danger, the threat-defense system is the quickest and most easily triggered. This means that self-criticism is often our first reaction when things go wrong. Feeling threatened puts stress on the mind and body, and chronic stress can cause anxiety and depres- sion, which is why habitual self-criticism is so bad for emotional and physical well-being. With self-crit- icism, we are both the attacker and the attacked. Compassion, including self-compassion, is linked to the mammalian care system. That’s why being compassionate to ourselves when we feel inadequate makes us feel safe and cared for, like a child held in a warm embrace. Self-compassion helps to downreg ulate the threat response. When the stress response (fight–flight– freeze) is triggered by a threat to our self-concept, we are likely to turn on our- selves in an unholy trinity of reactions. We fight our- selves (self-criticism), we flee from others (isolation), or we freeze (rumination). When we practice self-compassion, we → February 2019 mindful 45 self-compassion