'Good Morning, I Love You' Author Speaks on Self-Compassion

The Book Brigade talks to clinical and academic psychologist Shauna Shapiro

Posted Feb 13, 2020

Used with permission of author Shauna Shapiro
Source: Used with permission of author Shauna Shapiro

Many people talk to themselves in ways they wouldn’t dare speak to a friend—delivering a constant stream of criticism. It causes significant pain and suffering and is a gateway to depression. One way out is to make a habit of compassion—for oneself.

Today, I'll share an interview with Shauna Shapiro, the author of Good Morning, I Love You, where she shares on self-compassion, why it matters, what science says about it, and how to cultivate it in your life. 

Your book is about self-compassion. How does one know when that’s what’s missing from one’s life?

The easiest way to know is to ask yourself, Would I treat a dear friend the way I am treating myself? The essence of self-compassion is treating ourselves as we would a dear friend.

The first step of self-compassion is mindfulness, the awareness that you are in pain. We can’t be kind to ourselves unless we recognize that we are suffering. It sounds silly, but so many of us push past pain, repress, ignore, distract ourselves. So, the first step is simply to realize, “oh sweetheart, you are hurting right now.”

What does self-compassion do?

Self-compassion has an alchemical power. It soothes the painful parts of ourselves and it grows our resources. It literally gives us the capacity to learn new behaviors and make lasting changes in our lives.

Why do you believe that people need more self-compassion rather than, say, compassion for others?

I don’t believe we need more self-compassion than compassion for others. I believe we need both. And yet, you spend 24 hours a day with yourself, so it is a good place to practice. Neuroplasticity teaches us that “what we practice grows stronger,” so if we want to cultivate the pathway of compassion a good place to start is with ourselves. 

What kinds of practices develop self-compassion?

One of my favorites is the self-compassionate letter to yourself. To begin practicing self-compassion, it can be helpful to write a letter to yourself about a current struggle in your life, or an area where you feel inadequate and want to motivate yourself to change. But this letter has a special twist. In this letter to yourself, write as if you were talking to a dear friend facing the same concerns as you. How might you respond to your friend? What might you say? How might you support her? When you finish, mail the letter to yourself.

What does scientific research show about the value of self-compassion?

The research is clear: Self-compassion is a much more effective and healthy approach than shame or self-esteem. People with greater self-compassion have less depression, anxiety, shame, and stress—and greater happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, resilience, and performance.

What are common roadblocks to self-compassion?

The most common misgivings about self-compassion are fundamentally wrong. The first is the belief that it undermines motivation.

One of the biggest blocks to self-compassion is the belief that if we don’t criticize ourselves for failing to live up to our standards, we’ll lose our motivation to change. Science shows just the opposite. Self-compassion provides the optimal mental and physical environment to motivate us, providing a sense of safety and encouragement needed to face tough issues.

In a study by Helen Rockliff and colleagues, participants were asked to imagine a difficult situation. Half were left alone to dwell on the details of the situation, while the other half were repeatedly reminded by the researchers, “Allow yourself to feel that you are the recipient of great compassion; allow yourself to feel the loving-kindness that is there for you.”

The participants who were reminded to be compassionate had lower cortisol levels, indicating lower levels of stress from imagining the difficult situation. The self-compassion group also demonstrated higher levels of feeling safe after the exercise, as measured by heart rate monitors.

What is another roadblock?

The belief that self-compassion is selfish.

Many people conflate self-compassion with selfishness. Once again, research shows the opposite is true. Professors at the University of Austin, Texas, recruited more than 100 couples who’d been in a romantic relationship for a year or longer. They found that self-compassionate individuals were described by their partners as being more caring, accepting, and respectful than their self-critical counterparts, who were described as being more detached, aggressive, and controlling.

Our body understands this truth: Our heart, the single most important muscle in our body, pumps blood to itself first before sending blood to the rest of the body. Far from being selfish, it is both wise and necessary to learn to take care of ourselves. When we are able to give ourselves care and support and meet our own needs, we have more emotional resources available to help others.

What are other common roadblocks to self-compassion?

Another misconception is that self-compassion will make us self-indulgent slackers or couch potatoes who eat Oreos all day long and never exercise. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Research shows that self-compassionate people have healthier behaviors than non-self-compassionate people in terms of getting exercise, practicing safer sex, and eating healthfully.

What else keeps people from cultivating self-compassion?

Some people mistakenly believe that self-compassion lets us evade responsibility and ignore the consequences of our actions because we’ll just “forgive” ourselves. Far from letting ourselves off the hook, self-compassion creates a place of safety where we are able to squarely face our negative qualities without undermining our self-worth. We can reflect on them and objectively evaluate why they exist. This makes us better equipped to evaluate and learn from our mistakes and to make amends.

A final pervasive misgiving is that self-compassion will make us weak or passive. To the contrary, self-compassion is one of our most powerful sources of strength and resilience during hard times. Research shows that soldiers returning from Afghanistan who were taught self-compassion—to mindfully acknowledge their anxiety and fear and to bring kindness toward themselves in the face of it—had lower levels of PTSD.

Similarly, David Sabra and his colleagues at the University of Arizona examined whether self-compassion helps determine how well people adjust to another form of trauma: divorce. The researchers found that participants who displayed more self-compassion when talking about their breakup were healthier and happier, and that the effect persisted nine months later. In short, they were more resilient.

What kinds of situations tend to eat away at self-compassion?

Shame is the biggest culprit—the constant self-judgment, beating ourselves up. We need to learn to quiet the voices that tell us we aren’t good enough and instead of being our inner enemy to become our inner ally.

How do you make the case that waking up each day and saying I love you to yourself isn’t contrived or inauthentic?

As I share in my book, when my teacher first suggested I say I love you to myself every day, I balked at the idea because it felt contrived and inauthentic. I began with the gentler practice of simply saying, Good morning, Shauna. And it was kind of nice, instead of beginning the day with an avalanche of fear and stress, I began with a moment of presence, greeting myself with kindness.

This practice led to subtle yet significant shifts—more kindness, less harshness. As I continued to practice every day, one day, the dam around my heart burst and I spontaneously said, "Good morning, I love you." I felt my grandmother’s love, my mother’s love, my own self-love. I’ve continued to practice every day. Some days it feels lonely and raw, some days it feels awkward, and some days I feel profound love. No matter what I feel, I keep practicing. Science teaches us that what you practice grows stronger, so I continue to plant the seeds of kindness.

What is the single most important message of your book?

The single most important message is that change is possible, no matter what our past, no matter what mistakes we’ve made—all of us have the capacity to transform our lives.

About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.

To purchase this book, visit:  Good Morning, I Love You

Used with permission of author Shauna Shapiro
Source: Used with permission of author Shauna Shapiro