Good Enough

By Alex Dixon | December 1, 2007 | 0 comments

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” This was the mantra of Stuart Smalley, the sappy, self-help-obsessed character Al Franken created for Saturday Night Live. Smalley always seemed to be grappling with a profound lack of self-esteem, and no doubt he’s not alone. But new research suggests that, perhaps more importantly, Smalley and countless others like him really suffer from a self-compassion problem.

Self-compassion is a new psychological construct, developed by Kristin D. Neff, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. According to Neff, self-compassion has three main components: self-kindness (going easy on yourself when you make a mistake); common humanity (viewing negative experiences as something everyone goes through); and mindful acceptance (viewing your flaws objectively and accepting them).

Several recent studies have explored the behaviors and traits that characterize self-compassion and that distinguish it from self-esteem. In a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Duke University psychologists Mark Leary and Eleanor Tate examined how self-compassionate people judge themselves. They gave participants a questionnaire to determine how self-compassionate they were, then asked them to make up a story that began with the line, “Once upon a time, there was a little bear….” Leary and Tate filmed the participants telling these stories; afterwards, they had them watch the tape and rate their own performance, as well as the performances of two other people. Those who scored high in self-compassion were more likely to rate their performance similarly to the way others rated it, suggesting they see themselves the way others do. This differs from people high in self-esteem, who, in other experiments, have judged themselves more favorably than others did because of their inflated self-image.

Based on their findings, Leary and Tate propose that self-compassionate people accept their flaws but don’t become defensive or otherwise feel badly about them. But why?

In one of Neff’s studies, published in the August issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, she and her colleagues gave participants a variety of personality tests to find correlations between self-compassion and other traits. The results suggest that self-compassionate people are more likely to judge reality and themselves accurately; to be happy, optimistic, extroverted, and motivated; and to feel kindness toward others. They are also more likely to make changes that will lead to a more fulfilling life and to say they get along well with others.

Neff says that while some people might be innately more self-compassionate than others, she believes that, with practice, many more people can consciously boost their levels of self-compassion. “This may come through therapy, a spiritual practice, or by simply choosing to let go of the self-critical voice when it arises in our heads.”

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Alex Dixon is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It
International House at UC Berkeley
April 29, 2017
6 CE Hours

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It

A day-long semiar with GGSC Science Director Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., celebrated compassion teacher Joan Halifax, burnout expert Christina Maslach, Ph.D., and UCLA psychiatrist Elizabeth Bromley, M.D., Ph.D.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement