Jonathan Lowe) Loving oneself seems to come easy to narcissists, but what you're saying is that even they need help, just like the victims of highly competitive people who make the rules in our culture, then try to set themselves apart as superior, using those rules. These realizations are difficult to come by, but how hard is it to break free of self judgment by rejecting the narcissist's standards and finding your own?
Kristin Neff) It really just takes the realization of how much suffering we cause ourselves from our own self-judgment, and deciding we’re not going to do it any more. We already know how to be a good friend to others, we just need to use those same skills with ourselves.
JL) Negative mind games are like a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I know people pick up on that and reinforce one's warped self image for their own benefit. Bullying is an example. Of course the bully is hiding feelings of inadequacy too. So how important is it to stop negative thoughts, and how is this achieved?
KN) We don’t want to see our inner critic as a bully to itself be judged and rejected. We need to realize that our inner critic is trying to help us avoid dangers, though it’s doing so in a very unproductive way. We can’t stop negative thoughts, but we can be mindful when we notice them, and give ourselves compassion for the emotional pain we’re feeling.
JL) Reading the book "I'm Okay, You're Okay" helped me in my early 20s. What influenced you?
KN) Jack Kornfield’s “A Path with Heart” and Sharon Salzberg’s “Lovingkindness.”
JL) Eckhart Tolle's first book, "The Power of Now," describes his epiphany, in realizing that life is now, and never in the past or future. This is a core Buddhist teaching, which angered many of Oprah's fans when she embraced this for a time. But it's also a simple truth, and an empowering one as well. Why do you think people are so averse to advice that they attach labels to people like "guru" or "religious nut"?
KN) Perhaps they interpret the advice as a “should,” and also quite rightly are skeptical of people who claim they know all the answers. As a woman told me once, the goal for any teacher is to be “a guide from the side not a sage on the stage.” That said, advice from people like Eckhart Tolle is very wise, so you don’t want to reject a truth simply because of it’s source, it’s important to investigate for yourself “is this true?”
JL) My Miraculous Plot novel is based on "The Power of Now," and I think that whether someone believes in the supernatural or not, it should be obvious that we should distrust our thoughts and beliefs as being "who we are," given that billions are being spent on advertising slogans (and religions) to influence those thoughts. Do you agree?
KN) Absolutely. Thoughts are just words – representations of reality rather than reality itself.
JL) What kinds of people have you helped in your practice, and what sort of self image disorders do you see most?
KN) I’m not a clinician, but most people I meet are very self-critical. Because our brains have a negativity bias that tends to focus on avoiding problems. This was evolutionarily advantageous, of course. It means we distort reality by forgetting about what’s right with us in addition to what’s wrong.
JL) Our society is sports oriented, always trying to be "better" and to "win." I see your book and Tolle's as approaching this human dilemma from different angles: how to accept oneself fully, as is, right now. That's really a rebuff of the religion of sports, whose goal is to break the will of the opponent, or to kill one's enemy symbolically. Everyone is so caught up in keeping score on every level, we forget things that actually matter. What exactly do we "win" and what does "winning" mean, if the fighting never ends because we're all in groups or teams or countries insisting that we're better?
KN) What we win is prejudice and close-mindedness. Those are not great prizes.
JL) Ownership is a myth too, isn't it? What do we really own, other than who we are, this moment?
KN) Hard to argue with that one.
JL) What most useful advice do you give readers on gaining self esteem and keeping it?
KN) Stop trying to esteem yourself at all if by “esteem” you mean positive global self-evaluations. All human being are worthy of respect, kindness and compassion intrinsically, it’s not something that has to be earned. Instead of judging yourself as good or bad, just be kind to yourself.
JL) What's next for you?
KN) I’m gearing up to train others to teach the Mindful Self-Compassion program developed by Chris Germer and myself.
The EGO is self delusion.