Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
I've recently finished reading "Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff PhD, and it is the best and most helpful self-help book I have read yet.
The first section deconstructs why we criticise, judge and attack ourselves, and societal pressure to do so - primarily because we were taught to by society when we were young, it gives us a level of acceptance and safety, as well as a feeling a superiority, since we can take a superior stance by saying that we're not living up to our own high standards.
The next section focusses on how to develop self-compassion with three approaches:
1. Being kind to ourselves, by treating oursevles as we would treat a dear friend, or a child that we love.
2. Understanding that everyone on earth has the same feelings, and we are connected in this way when we are in pain, rather than feeling isolated and like we're the only people who experience these emotions. (Another good book on this subject is Brené Brown's "I Thought It Was Just Me".)
3. Being 'mindful'.
Kristin Neff speaks a lot about mindfulness, as she's studied Buddhism as well as psychology. She describes it as being aware of what emotions are present, and allowing them to be present, without making them smaller or larger than they are.
My feelings about mindfulness is that it's a really useful starting point for development and growth, and I feel it gets us out of a lot of the suppression of emotion that causes physical and emotional pain. However I feel it's only the starting point to real soul growth, because in my experience, and according to the Divine Truth teachings, the causal emotions underlying the surface feelings need to be accessed and experienced, in order for pronounced and permanent change to occur. Allowing surface emotions doesn't heal us. We need to go deeper. And sometimes being mindful doesn't take us that deep, in my limited experience.
For instance, we can tell ourselves that we are damaged and we need self-compassion, but at the same time be emotionally judging ourselves for our flaws. It's not until we release the emotional reason for our judgements that we will stop judging ourselves.
However, being kind to ourselves in the meantime, and acknowledging the truth of our situation, is definitely helpful and a step in the right direction. And personally I'm finding that it's giving me more day-to-day peace of mind, and a more positive and hopeful attitude.
Here are some quotes that I found particularly useful and inspiring from the book:
"Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion are significantly less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions than those who lack self-compassion. They're more willing to experience their difficult feelings and to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and important. This is because of the safety provided by self compassion. It's not as scary to confront emotional pain when you know that you will be supported throughout the process. Just as it feels easier to open up to a close friend whom you can rely on to be carying and understanding, it's easier to open up to yourself when you can trust that your pain will be held in compassionate awareness."
"Another stumbling block was the belief that if I forgave myself it would just amount to letting myself off the hook. But to my surprise I found that when I started to accept myself with more kindness and compassion, I could actually be more honest about the ways in which I had harmed others."
And this bit appealed to the scientist in me:
"There is also physiological data supporting the claim that self-compassionate people have better emotional coping skills. Researchers measured cortisol levels and heart rate variability among a group of individuals trained to have more self-compassion. Cortisol is a stres hormone, while heart rate variability is an indicator of the ability to adapt effectively to stress. The more self-compassionate versus self-critical that people were, the lower their cortisol levels and the higher their heart rate variability. This suggests that self-compassionate people are able to deal with the challenges life throws their way with greater emotional equanimity."
Kristin Neff also describes the benefits of self-compassion, and discusses how much more powerful self-compassion is for a happier life and good relationships than what has previously been focussed on in psychology - self-esteem. Instead of trying to be the best, and better than others, which is a common feature of having high self-esteem, we accept how we are, and give ourselves compassion for our flaws, as well as appreciation for our good points.
In amongst the chapters are some really useful exercises to help develop the self-compassion.
More information, as well as some of the exercises, can be found on Kristin Neff's website http://self-compassion.org/
And you can watch Kristin Neff's TED talk here: