• Elspeth Robertson

Self-Compassion: Book Review

This February, for the Intrinsic Therapy Book Club, I read Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by researcher Kristin Neff. To be honest, this is one that I have had on my shelf for a long time and have merely glanced at. I have taken courses where Neff is a keynote speaker and watched her Ted Talks, but the book wasn't calling to me for some reason. Choosing it as a book club book was exactly the push I needed to bring it along with me wherever I went to sneak in a few pages on the train, in-between clients and on sunny days at the park. This isn't a book that I would be able to just pick up and read cover to cover, but I think that the slower reading pace actually allowed for better absorption of the key ideas and gave me the opportunity to try to apply the concepts to my daily life.

In Self-Compassion, Neff lays out her research on the topic of self-compassion in an inviting, thought-provoking and personal way - similar to how researcher Brené Brown writes about vulnerability and shame. There are quite a lot of mentions of her research studies, but these appearances tend to underscore the message rather than distract from it with psycho-jargon. Neff begins this book by contrasting self-esteem and self-compassion and advocating for the more compassionate approach for long-term happiness and fulfillment. Her findings show that while self-esteem (and corresponding happiness) tends to vary based on external life circumstances, self-compassion stays consistent through both turbulent times and uplifting times. This is because self-compassion recognizes and embraces that suffering is a part of life, and offers support and kindness rather than self-criticism in the event of struggle or failure.

The three central tenants of self-compassion are: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. In between sharing her research, the author also shares her personal stories about her self-compassion journey. She writes about sensitive topics like divorce, scandal, hardship, parenting, offering herself as the emotional guinea pig for the self compassion practices that she writes about. In between research and personal anecdotes are short self compassion exercises for the reader to try at home or with a therapist. Overall this makes for an engaging narrative driven book which helps you reflect on your own way of being in the world.

My biggest takeaway from this book is the Self-Compassion Break. It is a simple script to give yourself compassion when you need it. This simple practice has helped me through countless hard moments throughout this pandemic: finishing my masters degree online, feeling isolated from friends and family, losing my grandfather, not being able to return home for the holidays, civil and political unrest. Just the act of writing out these experiences is an act of self-compassion, because it is mindfully recognizing that this suffering is real and valid. Even if others have struggled worse, my suffering is real and valid. Even if it is just a small thing like stepping in a puddle, that suffering is real and valid. The Self-Compassion Break helps you to move through those moments of suffering without criticizing yourself or becoming engulfed in it. Here is how it works:

Self-Compassion Break

by Kristin Neff

Acknowledge "This is a moment of suffering". (Mindfulness) "I am not alone in this feeling". (Common Humanity). "May I be kind to myself in this moment". (Self-Kindness).

These words are simple but the message is powerful: You are worthy of kindness in moments of suffering. Kindness may mean different things to different people. Maybe it is giving yourself a hug or stopping what you are doing to redirect your task or grounding yourself in the moment by connecting to your breath.

How can you be kind to yourself today?