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The Two Sides of Fierce Self-Compassion

Following on from my previous blog, read what Kristen Neff, one of our most prominent researchers in the field has to say about the two sides of fierce self-compassion. She uses the symbol of yin and yang to describe it. Yin and yang refers to a concept originating in ancient Chinese philosophy where opposite forces are seen as interconnected and counterbalancing. It is commonly represented by the yin-yang symbol above, a circle made up of black and white swirls, each containing a spot of the other.

Yin and Yang: the two sides of fierce self-compassion

When most people think of self-compassion, they imagine the yin version. But self-compassion also has a “yang” form. With yang self-compassion, the three components show up as fierce, empowered truth. Self-kindness means we fiercely protect ourselves. We stand up and say, “NO! You cannot harm me in this way.

Common humanity helps us to recognise that we are not alone; we don’t need to hang our heads in shame. We can stand together with our brothers and sisters in the experience of being harmed and become empowered as a result. Me too!

And mindfulness manifests as clearly seeing the truth. We no longer choose to avoid seeing or telling in order to not rock the boat. The boat needs to be rocked. When we hold our pain with fierce, empowered truth, we can speak up and tell our stories, to protect ourselves and others from being harmed. In yin self-compassion, we hold ourselves with love—validating, soothing, and comforting our pain so that we can “be” with it without being consumed by it. In yang self-compassion, we act in the world in order to protect ourselves, provide what we need, and motivate change to reach our full potential.”

Scientifically proven to work

Research, including that carried out by Kristen Neff,  shows that these aspects of self-compassion taken together, lead to well-being. Yin self-compassion reduces depression and anxiety by replacing self-judgment with self-acceptance. When we soothe and comfort ourselves in the midst of difficult emotions, we no longer fall down the rabbit hole of shame but take refuge in the safety of our own warmth and care. We become happier and more satisfied with our lives as a result. 

Olivia Stevenson from the University of Northern Colorado and Ashley Batts Allen from the University of North Carolina examined how self-compassion and inner strength were linked in over 200 women. They found that participants with higher scores on the SCS (self-compassion scale) felt more empowered: They felt stronger and more competent, asserted themselves more, felt more comfortable expressing anger, were more aware of cultural discrimination and committed to social activism. These findings are echoed in other research showing that self-compassionate women are more likely to confront others when needed and are less afraid of conflict.

Other research has found the following: The practice  leads to more effective coping with divorce (Sbarra et al., 2012), means we are less likely to develop PTSD after combat trauma (Hiraoka et al., 2015), we are better at coping with chronic health conditions (Sirois, 2015), we are better able to raise special needs children (Neff & Faso, 2014) plus self-compassion is linked to greater motivation (Breines & Chen, 2012).

The #MeToo Movement

On a wider societal level, Kristen Neff says that the #MeToo movement can be seen as the collective arising of female yang. Women are finally speaking up to protect ourselves: She says: “If we are yin without yang, we will continue to be silenced, to be abused, to be disregarded and disempowered. If we are yang without yin, however, we are at risk of becoming self-righteous, of forgetting the humanity of others. We need love in our hearts so we don’t perpetuate a cycle of hate, but we need fierceness so that we don’t let things continue on their current harmful path.”

She notes that many of our great leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King advocated a very similar practice. 

Useful websites  Kristen Neff   Chris Germer     Paul Gilbert UK 

Guided meditations  Kristen Neff   Chris Germer Paul Gilbert

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Self-CompassionTools of Self-CompassionFierce Self-Compassion