Discovering Self-Compassion

Today’s post is one I’ve been excited to write for about a month now, which is weird because it’s kind of just a glorified book review. But guys, over the past month, I’ve been like…spiritually awakened by Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion. “Spiritually awakened” is kind of dramatic but listen. The drama is justified. The book (and more so, the concept of self-compassion) is like finally finding the key to unlock the shackles of judgment imprisoning our thoughts (okay, maybe that’s too dramatic).

Ryan Moreno at unsplash.com

Ryan Moreno at unsplash.com

I first heard of self-compassion when reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, in which she references Kristin Neff’s research on the subject. Being kind to ourselves in times of suffering? Mindfully acknowledging personal flaws and pain without beating ourselves up for it? Living a life so gentle and forgiving – it sounded almost like a dream. I ordered Neff’s book Self-Compassion immediately.

I devoured Self-Compassion, in a way that I haven’t yet with a personal-growth book (I can’t use the phrase “self-help book” without picturing like, a disheveled divorcée in the fetal position at a Barnes and Noble. “Personal-growth” it is). The concept just spoke to me – maybe because it relates to my own personal set of internal challenges, or maybe because it would relate to anyone’s. With the state of American values right now – the importance of a strong education, a successful career, a gorgeous body, a happy family – and the near impossible standards that are set, so many people suffer from a raging, abusive inner critic. We chastise ourselves for not being ______ enough (fill in the blank with anything and everything). We wallow in the negative feelings that come with criticizing ourselves. We exaggerate our flaws and pay little attention to our strengths.

It leaves us feel defensive in romantic relationships. Insecure in our career paths. Unaccepted by our peers. It makes us feel unloved.

It’s not an easy thought pattern to disrupt, and Kristin Neff understands the difficulty of being self-compassionate.  Her book is sprinkled with stories of her own personal journey to self-compassion, and honestly, I was so into these parts. Girlfriend has lived. She writes about her detached relationship with her father, the affair-induced break up of her first marriage, the discovery and acceptance of her son’s autism diagnosis, and her international travels to visit Shamanic healers with her family. She is basically a badass. Her stories often don’t portray her in the best light, and I find that vulnerability so refreshing. I am turned off by the personal-growth books that imply that the author has it all figured out, and the concept they’re preaching has catapulted them into a perpetually serene, storybook life. Neff is honest about the mistakes she has made in the past and the difficulties that still arise. I appreciate that she isn’t selling self-compassion as a quick fix for a perfect life. It isn’t quick and it doesn’t make life perfect. Instead, it allows us to accept the good and bad as parts of the rich, complex lives we are so lucky to lead.

In Self-Compassion, Neff writes about the core components of the concept:

First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness – that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring the pain or exaggerating it.
— Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion, page 41.

The book individually explores these concepts deeper, making it easy to grasp the way that they apply to our own personal thoughts. Each chapter has practical exercises to guide your self-compassion practice, which I’ve been using when facilitating self-compassion-based therapy groups. For the more logical readers, Neff supports her claims about self-compassion with research that suggests its proven psychological benefits. Additionally, she focuses in on how self-compassion is more influential than self-esteem, and how it plays a role in our compassion for others, parenting, and romantic relationships.

I’m grateful that I read this book – it’s helping to reshape my daily thinking to be kinder, gentler, and less critical. I’d recommend checking out Kristin Neff’s website here and taking her quiz to test how self-compassionate you are here. I took the quiz before reading the book and after and it was very cool to see my score increase.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on self-compassion in the comments!!