Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is a wonderfully accessible, personal journey through research and practice written by psychologist Kristin Neff. Self-compassion is a tricky concept. Neff guides readers through the self-compassion cultivation practices that recent studies have found helpful. Every chapter also includes a personal anecdote that grounds these practices in real life. Neff’s disclosures detail infidelity, divorce, the unique experiences of raising an autistic child, and what it means to be a romantic partner in a culture that does not always respect vulnerability and difference, particularly for women. In each case, Neff is able to masterfully link her life experiences with the practices that have brought meaning to her struggles and taught her self-compassion. The book is valuable for its smooth integration of these three approaches to self-compassion: summary of the science, Neff’s personal experience, and clear instructions on how to practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion may sound trivial or indulgent; however, it is incredibly difficult. Neff spells out how self-compassion undermines our deeply held beliefs about what it means to feel wronged, to defend ourselves from emotional slights with our habitual armor, or to hold on to suffering we are not ready to let go of yet. Self-compassion is more than an internal experience – it is a way of being in the world that allows us to be better parents, spouses, and teachers. It is a reminder that “I am someone worthy of love and care because, like all of us, I am human and experience pain. I don’t need to defend my worth.”
A notable practice Neff offers is the self-compassionate break. According to Neff, a self-compassionate break consists of 1) taking a moment in the midst of an argument, a frustration, or a painful moment to take a mental step back and recognize the suffering that is happening; 2) connecting with the common, shared experience of that particular pain – either with others in the world who may be having the same experience in the moment, or with the pain of the person we are arguing with; and then 3) extending a sense of warmth and kindness to ourselves and others. Often, the feeling of kindness can be evoked by remembering the words of a loved one, such as a friend who used to say: “Honey, of course you’re hurt right now… it’s totally understandable and you should remember to take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself.” According to Neff, this shift in perspective can make a huge difference in our skillfulness and well-being.
Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is unique in how it combines the practical, the personal, and the scientific. Neff offers exercises that can bring self-compassion into your life right now. She drives home these practical lessons by diving into the messy ups and downs of her life and describing how self-compassion has altered it. At the same time, Neff is deeply grounded in the science of self-compassion. She describes the studies, researchers, and personalities involved in exploring the definitions and effects of self-compassion. Ultimately, Neff explains how self-compassion opens the door to being a compassionate and gentle presence in the world. Being kind to ourselves allows us to be kind to others, whether it is smiling back at a neighbor, noticing when a loved one needs a hug, or taking advantage of the opportunity to do something kind for a friend.
About the Author
Matthew Skinta, Ph.D., is a clinical health psychologist in San Francisco. You can learn more about him at http://www.drmatthewskinta.com/.