Category Archives: The Self-Compassion Project

Self-Compassion Saturday: Barbara Markway

This week’s post is a little different. Before starting this series, I had never “met” Barbara Markway, didn’t know much about her even though I had seen her Self-Compassion Project. Three weeks after I published the first Self-Compassion Saturday, she sent me an email to tell me that she had a Google alert for self-compassion and in that way had found my blog. She explained that this was the kind of thing she wrote about a lot, if I ever wanted her to do a post.

How cool is that? Of course I said “yes, please.” And that makes this post completely unique — everyone else I sought out, asked, begged to contribute, but Barb found her own way here because of our shared interest in the subject. Her biography on Psychology Today describes her this way,

Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a psychologist with over twenty years of experience and the author of four books–three on social anxiety/shyness and one on marriage. Her first book, Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia, was named one of the most scientifically valid self-help books in a study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and featured in the PBS documentary Afraid of People. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Prevention, Essence, American Health, Real Simple and Web MD. She has been heard on radio shows across the country. Dr. Markway’s recent interests include self-compassion and she writes about her own experiences at The Self-Compassion Project.

I’m so happy Barb reached out to me, so happy to share her perspective on self-compassion with you today.
Barbprofessional1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

I really like psychologist and researcher Kristin Neff’s 3-pronged definition of self-compassion.

The first component is self-kindness, which is what most people probably think about when they think of self-compassion. It’s about talking to ourselves in a kind, gentle way and offering ourselves the support we need.

Another aspect of self-compassion is recognizing our common humanity. In essence, acknowledging that everyone is flawed: this is part of the human experience. It helps to remember that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling.

The third component is mindfulness: being able to recognize, in the moment, that you’re suffering. It’s amazing how much negative self-talk goes on just under your awareness.

It’s been really helpful to me to focus on all three of these aspects of self-compassion, not simply the self-kindness part.

It’s also been helpful for me to remember that self-compassion is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of oneself.  In contrast, self-compassion is not about evaluating yourself at all. It’s about how you relate to yourself. What a relief that I can offer myself self-compassion, even if I don’t like myself at a particular moment!

barbheart2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

What brought me to actively studying and practicing self-compassion was the approach of my 50th Birthday. It was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2011 and my 50th Birthday was a month away. I realized that if I had to pick one word to describe my life up to that point, it would be “tortured.” I was never satisfied with myself. I frequently thought I hadn’t accomplished enough. I easily became overwhelmed with emotions. I was sensitive to the point that it was painful. I was prone to despair, alternating with diffuse anxiety. And to top it all off, I didn’t have a lot of fun in my life–mostly of my own choosing. When I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I skipped the chapter on fun. I also suffered more than a little shame thinking that all of my training and experience as a psychologist should have made me a bit less of a mess by this point in my life.

So on a whim, I stayed up late December 31, 2011 and started a blog called, The Self-Compassion Project. I’ve used a lot of resources to learn about self-compassion since then. I highly recommend Kristen Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, and Christopher Germer’s book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. I love anything by Tara Brach or Sharon Salzberg. I listen to and watch a lot of podcasts.
barbbee3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

I use some specific techniques, most that I learned from Kristin Neff’s book. One technique I use daily is a gentle touch on my skin (maybe touch my forearm with my other hand) while I say something reassuring to myself. The touch actually releases oxytocin and sets off a calming response in the body. I discretely do this at work when I’m stressed. At home I may give myself a big hug!

Another thing I do is combine the self-compassionate touch with a phrase or self-compassion mantra, such as: “This is a moment of suffering; suffering is a part of life; may I be kind to myself and give myself what I need.”

I do a lot of informal mindfulness practice. I never used to take breaks—it was always work. Now I go outside and simply appreciate the beauty around me. This helps me connect with a greater good, and I end up feeling softer and gentler with myself. I have really gotten into bird watching.

barbbird4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

I still struggle with giving myself compassion around issues of chronic pain. I’ve had several back surgeries, and several other health issues, but a definitive diagnosis is elusive. Toni Bernhard’s book, How to Be Sick, and her blog on Psychology Today, Turning Straw into Gold, have been enormously helpful, though. But I’m not nearly as gentle as I could be with myself around issues of pain.

Then, there are several things I’ve learned, but I know I’ll need to keep relearning them!

One is that even though I love the name of my blog, The Self-Compassion Project, this isn’t something I can neatly do in a year and check it off my to-do list. Self-compassion really isn’t a project in that sense. (Oh, how I love to cross things off of lists!)

barbroseAlso, I realized that, in a way, I was trying to trick myself with self-compassion. I said I wanted to be nicer to myself, but I really meant, “I want to change myself.” I thought learning to be self-compassionate was going to change my personality. Somehow, I’d magically become an easy-going, interesting person without worries. I also hoped that life would be easier, I wouldn’t feel things as deeply (sometimes I’m so raw), and I wouldn’t cry as much. DIDN’T HAPPEN. Well, I do think I worry a little less… 🙂

Related to the above, I need to learn not to take everything so seriously—even self-compassion. Sometimes the best thing I can do for myself is watch a Seinfeld rerun and simply laugh.

I could go on and on about what I still need to learn, so I’d better stop now. Thank you so much for including me in this series!

barbcropped-1I’m so grateful that Barb reached out to me, made the initial contact, and have enjoyed getting to know her better — she is so kind. To find out more about her, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Julia Fehrenbacher. This one is super special, a video interview between Julia and I. Yep, you heard that right — if you’ve never seen me moving around in “real” life, never heard my voice, now you will!

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning. Or make your way through all the posts tagged Self-Compassion Saturday.

Something Good

1. 75 ways to live a positively present life from Positively Present.

2. Karen Walrond at TEDxHouston 2012, shared on Upworthy in their post This Is Why Your Lover Thinks You’re Gorgeous In A Holey T-Shirt And Sweatpants. I recommend her blog too, maybe start with this recent post, random thoughts: on happiness, gratitude & meaning. She’s a speaker, photographer, writer, and all around superwoman “wildly convinced you’re uncommonly beautiful.”

3. Sh*t Hipsters Say.

4. This wisdom from Aart Van Der Leeuw,

The mystery of life
is not a problem to
be solved,
but a reality
to be experienced.

5. When I Read This I Think of You and 10 Things to Do When You Get Up Before the Sun on Elephant Journal.

6. Wisdom from Anne Lamott on Facebook.

7. Wisdom from J.M. Porup, “The job of the writer isn’t to answer questions. The job of the writer is to ask the questions for which there are no answers.”

8. The Daily Life of a Grandma and Her Odd-Eyed Cat, a sweet series of photos by Miyoko Ihara on demilked.

image by Miyoko Ihara

9. The World’s Top 10 Most Unusual Bonsai Trees.

10. One of my favorite websites, Humans of New York, now has a theme song, and I have a new favorite band.

11. This wisdom from Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook, and what she said about morning.

12. 11 Habits You Need to Give Up to Be Happy and 7 Effective Ways Happy People Think from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

13. Your Daily Rock from Patti Digh: your daily rock : make peace, and your daily rock : recharge your soul, and your daily rock : wholeheartedly.

14. What if the Gift is the Ending? We Can Reimagine Our Lives? from Rachael Maddox.

15. Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son on Huffington Post. On her website’s about page, this mom says,

Although I am a Christian, I feel broken-hearted by the things that the church in America has become most known for. You will never find me marching in a parade against gay rights, abortion rights or immigrant rights. I do not resonate with those who are known for being AGAINST things, especially when what it amounts to is being against people’s hearts and souls.

16. How to Enjoy a Chore-less Weekend from Be More with Less.

17. Turning kindness inward, what Judy Clement Wall had to say about her Self-Compassion Saturday post.

18. How to Let Go: 5 Essential Tips on the Positivity Blog.

19. Home Retreat: The Practice of Doing Exactly What You Want from Susan Piver.

20. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” ~Gloria Steinem

21. Wisdom from Natalie Goldberg,

There is no ultimate goal in meditation. Meditation is an acceptance of the mind, however it comes to you. And the mind changes all the time, just as the ocean waves change. Sometimes the water is turbulent, sometimes calm. Thoughts rise and then disappear; you don’t grab hold of them. The heart beats, the lungs breathe, and the mind continues to produce thoughts. Even if you’ve practiced for a long time, it will still produce thoughts, but you’re no longer thrown by them. You don’t have control of your mind; it goes where it wants to go. But with practice, you can have a relationship with it.

22. Discipline, devotion & dazzling charm: what I learned from three of the most famous bloggers in the world from Alexandra Franzen.

23. Wisdom from the book Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Norman Fischer,

We admire people who are wealthy, famous, or skillful in some way, but it’s not hard to be like that. If you are born with some talent, a little luck, and you know the right people, you can do that. Many people do that. Much more difficult and much more wonderful is to be a bodhisattva. Not someone that many people know about and talk about but someone who has the almost magical power of spreading happiness and confidence wherever he goes. What a vision for your life, for your family, to be a light for those around you! To think of everything you do, every action, every social role, every task, as being just a cover for, an excuse for, your real aspiration, to be a bodhisattva, spreading goodness wherever you go. This requires no luck (even if everything goes wrong in your life, you can do it), no special skills, no need to meet special people and get special breaks. We can all do this. This is the aspiration we should all cultivate for training the mind.

24. Wisdom from Tama J. Kieves,

When I was younger, “being different” cost too much. I did anything I could to fit in. These days, “being normal” costs too much. I’m not willing to fit in with the pack, if it costs me my soul, my strength, and my reason for being. I didn’t come here to duck. I came here to fly.

25. Becoming More Authentic: Accept Yourself and Stop Seeking Approval on Tiny Buddha.

26. Wisdom from Tulku Thondup,

For any spiritual training or mental activity, we need concentration. Learning how to concentrate makes our minds strong, clear, and calm. Concentration protects our inner wisdom, like a candle flame sheltered from the wind. If our minds are cluttered with plans, concerns, thoughts, and emotional patterns, we have no space for our true selves.


Learning to live in the moment is a great and powerful skill that will help us in everything we do. To ‘‘be here now,’’ relaxed and engaged in whatever we are doing, is to be alive and healthy. In Buddhism, the awareness of what is happening right now is called mindfulness.

27. Every place is under the stars, a really great quote shared on A Design So Vast.

28. Appreciating My “Regular” Job and 50 Ways You Can Be Brave Today on The Self-Compassion Project.

29. Twenty seconds away from more joy! on Cherry Blossom Soup.

30. Whitney Cummings on The Conversation

31. From Brave Girls,

Today we have a sweet little challenge for you. What if for the next 24 hours, you focus on what is right, and not waste a single minute thinking about what is wrong? What if you run towards what you want, instead of running away from what you don’t want? What if you notice the beautiful little miracles and ignore the big distractions. What if you listen to the voice inside of you and let all of the other voices go? Just for 24 hours? Will you take us up on it? We suspect that it might just end up being one of the best days of your life. Enjoy it! Every single second of it! You are so loved. xoxo

32. Wisdom from Mr. Rogers, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

33. Mark Bittman’s Spicy Cheddar Shortbread recipe. I make a biscuit like this that my friends call “crack biscuits,” so I am totally going to try this one.

34. From Positively Present Picks: How to let go of your ego, How to buy happiness, and A Dad had some weird conversations with his two-year-old daughter. So he reenacted them with two grown men, (two new episodes!).

35. From Rowdy Kitten’s Happy Links: Xanthe Berkeley Photos and Films, which led to this, her video set on Vimeo — really beautiful work.

36. From Susannah Conway’s Something for the Weekend list: honeysuckle biscuits with sea salt peach butter + honeysuckle mint vinaigrette, gorgeous food, luscious recipe.

37. Lots of new episodes on Why We Rescue.

38. When Facebook Likes Meet Real Life, Things Get … Complicated on Upworthy.

39. This wisdom from Hafiz, “You yourself are your own obstacle – rise above yourself.”

40. This wisdom from Pema Chödrön,

Whatever we’re doing could be done with one intention, which is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion, and we want to ripen our ability to let go. Everything in our lives can wake us up or put us to sleep, and basically it’s up to us to let it wake us up.