Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself is written by Kristin Neff, a prominent researcher in the area of self-compassion. It includes research findings, a variety of exercises with room to complete them in the book, and stories from the author’s personal experience. The author draws on Buddhist teachings, and she writes that:
“Suffering stems from a single source – comparing our reality to our ideals.”
The book describes how self-criticism develops, and offers examples of how it can be essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy by putting ourselves down in front of others to beat them to the punch, or by undermining our relationships out of the belief that others judge us the way our self-critic does.
Self-compassion is presented as an alternative to self-criticism, and Neff clarifies that this isn’t trying to feel good about yourself. Rather, self-compassion is about self-kindness, acknowledgement of our common humanity, and mindful awareness. She also explains that self-compassion isn’t about self-pity, as it calls for us to recognize that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universally shared.
I was surprised by the argument that the pursuit of higher self-esteem isn’t necessarily useful. Neff pointed out various issues, including promotion of narcissism and the fragility of having self-esteem contingent on things outside of our control. Self-compassion involves recognizing that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t need to define our worth.
The book addresses the question of whether self-criticism might be necessary to perform effectively, and I thought that really strengthened the argument for self-compassion. Neff points out that people actually do their best when they feel confident, and self-criticism undermines that. Also, self-critics tend to “self-handicap,” finding ways of doing things that will later give them an excuse for poor performance. While that doesn’t surprise me, I hadn’t heard of self-handicapping before.
One section of the book focuses on how self-compassion can improve interactions with others. This includes a chapter on improving things in the bedroom by letting go of sexual shame.
I quite liked the author’s approach to self-compassion. It doesn’t rely on being positive or having strong self-esteem, which makes it broadly accessible. Kind of like in Brené Brown’s books, research findings are incorporated, but not in a textbookish way. There are plenty of real life examples to illustrate the concepts covered.
I think this would be a great read for anyone struggling with self-criticism. And really, we could probably all benefit from a little more kindness toward ourselves.
The author’s website is self-compassion.org.
Self-Compassion is available on Amazon.
You can find my other book reviews here.
I’ve pulled together some more resources on self-compassion on the COVID-19/mental health coping toolkit page.
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