As I’ve mentioned before, I like to mix in a few self-help/positive thinking/mental health books throughout the year. I first heard of Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff about a year ago, and I finally got around to reading it recently. (Get ready for a wordier-than-usual review!)
Kristin Neff has a Ph.D. and largely draws on her own research, others’ studies, and anecdotes to explain and encourage readers toward a more self-compassionate mentality, lifestyle, and relationship with self/others/the world. One of the largest distinctions she makes is between self-esteem, which relies on feeling superior to others, vs. self-compassion, in which you can feel good about yourself while acknowledging we are all imperfect (see the “Exercise Excerpt” for a good measure/gut check for these concepts.)
Dr. Neff explores aspects of self-compassion in parenting, marriage, friendships, careers, and more, and throughout each chapter, she offers practical and effective exercises for readers to engage in to improve their self-compassion. I didn’t do all the exercises, but there were a few I tried out and I found them worthwhile!
One of the exercises I’m going to keep doing even after reading the book is a mindful exercise where you choose one part of your daily routine (walking to the office from your car, going to get the mail, brushing your teeth, etc.) and focus on the HERE and NOW. Don’t distract yourself with your phone or thoughts of what’s ahead or behind you, just be mindful of where you’re at: the ground under your feet, the sights and sounds, the act of living and breathing as you go. Usually, I’m scrolling through Instagram or texting on my way into the office from the parkin ggarage, but I’ve set aside that 2-3 minutes now just to BE, and it is really helping me re-center for the day. Try it!
So, a little more on self-compassion…there are three core components:
Self-kindness: Self-compassion means being warm toward oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring them or hurting oneself with self-criticism.
Common humanity: Self-compassion also involves recognizing that suffering and personal failure are part of the shared human experience.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which individuals observe their thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.
Kristin explains each of these components throughout the book, demonstrating how by weaving them together, we can come to a happier, more sustainable, and more wholesome outlook on life. She warns against the dangers of using self-esteem to boost our spirits instead of self-compassion because self-compassion does not require you to be in competition or be “perfect” to deserve it. You should treat yourself with compassion because you’re human. It’s as easy as that…although it’s much easier said than done 🙂
Some of my favorite quotes from the book are:
“When we consistently give ourselves nurturance and understanding, we come to feel worthy of care and acceptance.” -à the link between self-worth and self-compassion, which impacts our relationship with ourselves and others for the better!
“Suffering=pain x resistance” àit is the resistance to pain that leads to our suffering. If we understand pain as part of life/the human condition, we will suffer much less.
“Mindfulness allows us to stop resisting reality because it holds all experience in nonjudgmental awareness.” In other words, if you get distracted while doing your mindful walk into work in the morning (ahem…me), don’t beat yourself up for it. Observe it, be aware of it, and return to mindfulness/the moment.
“We are a verb not a noun, a process rather than a fixed thing.”
“Self-compassion is…caring about ourselves – fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are. It is a way of relating to the mystery of who we are.”
Self-criticism: are you good enough? (Driving force = fear)
Self-compassion: what’s good for you? (Driving force= love)
“Self-compassion is a way to feel good about yourself that doesn’t require feeling superior to others.”
EXERCISE EXCEPRT –
Ask yourself these questions to determine if you are acting/thinking out of self-esteem or self-compassion.
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Compassion:
- Do I want to feel better than others, or to feel connected?
- Does my worth come from being special, or from being human?
- Do I want to be perfect, or to be healthy?
Frameworks like the above will *hopefully* help me remain aware of what state of mind I’m in as I go forward. After reading Dr. Neff’s book, it’s clear that cultivating self-compassion is a worthwhile pursuit! I’m glad I spent time exploring it and soaking on it over the past week and look forward to applying the lessons to my life.
Some people might find these kinds of books hokey or too “woo-woo,” but I try to keep an open mind and just take them as they are. Part of why I enjoy reading the occasional self-help book is the constant encouragement/refresher they give me to continue to evolve, move forward, and become a better version of myself. I can definitely say that these books have influenced me and my relationships over the last year or so for the better, so no matter how silly some of this may sound, I find it to be helpful reinforcement overall.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Stats: 320 pages
Recommended for: Anyone who needs to re-center how they think about themselves and the world. It’s also fascinating based on a psychology perspective alone, so if you’re a fan of Psychology Today or other positive psych news, try this out.
Up Next: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I’ve had it on hold at the library for a month and it was ready for me the day I finished Self-Compassion. Score!!! Nate is going to read it next so we can ramp up or mini book club again too 🙂