Empathy for the Self

9 Jun

Article review

I was browsing through Psychology Today one morning (I don’t get out of bed without reading at least one article of a magazine! That’s my ‘me’ time.), and found a fascinating article, the ‘Empathy Trap.’ As I read it, I considered the point it was delivering. We are hard on ourselves – yes, we support others and give them empathy, but when it comes to narrating our own lives, that voice in our head prefers to chastise rather than empathize or comfort.

And so I was left wondering, how can we become empathetic towards ourselves. When I flipped the page to a new article, I found the answer. And that answer is what we’re going to dive into in today’s post.
Ethan Kross and Jason Moser are researchers studying neuroscience. Specifically, they are examining responses in the brain. Psychology Today was reporting on a fascinating study they have run that shows the impact of self-talk.


What is self-talk? It’s our personal dialogue – the self-narration of our lives. For example, just the other day, I had parked my car in a lot and when stepping out realized I’d have to walk through a huge puddle.

“You are such an idiot for doing that,” I told myself.

But you know what? I’d never say that to someone else. Instead, I’d empathize.

In Kross’ and Moser’s work, they observed that when women switched from the first person ‘I’ to using a pronoun (specifically, their own name), self talk actually became a reassuring experience. The brain responded differently, and a greater sense of confidence was cultivated.

“Switching from pronouns to names isn’t the only path to wise perspective. There’s a kind of self-talk that has long been looked on as hokey—self-affirmations, positive statements (“You are brilliant,” “You are beautiful”) that have that 1970s, New Age aura and seem like shortcuts to self-esteem. But researchers now find that they, too, serve a purpose. Just like using given-name self-talk, such affirmations have the power to defuse threats and confer perspective.” Psychology Today, The Voice of Reason

From the same article, psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that such ego self-boosts can mitigate criticism, withstand outside threats and help us to persevere in negative situations. They work by widening our self awareness and minimizing defensiveness.

Incredible or what?

Well, let’s try it – let’s use our own names in self-talk, and instead of judging ourselves so harshly, why not begin using language that 1) empathizes and brings compassion and 2) turns us into the observer.

The more distance we have from the situation, the easier it may become to realize that these little bumps in life are barely worth noticing.

Next time you find yourself beginning to talk down to yourself, switch it up. Use your name and comfort yourself. Then, don’t just comfort but encourage. From there anything can happen.

This happened to me before, again while driving, as I shared in a post that referenced the music of Barry White. How fascinating that months later it would be backed up by science and Psychology Today!

If you’d like to catch these articles, I’ll link them for you below. Don’t miss the list at the bottom of the ‘Voice of Reason’ article about how to talk yourself through a challenge.

Till next week – be kind to yourself!

Articles cited:
The Voice of Reason, by Pamela Weintraub in Psychology Today
The Empathy Trap, by Robin Stern and Diana Divecha in Psychology Today


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