The quote on the cover of the book entitled Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, published in 2011, indicates that this book is a “transformative read”. I doubted the accuracy of this quote but by the end of the book I had to agree with the truthfulness of it. Most people are too hard on themselves, especially when they make a mistake or things do not go as planned. We can escape this trap of self-criticism and self-condemnation not by trying to be perfect but by stopping judging and evaluating ourselves altogether. We can try to be as compassionate toward ourselves as most people are toward others.
Neff defines self-compassion as having three core components: self-kindness, being gentle and understanding with ourselves; recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life and mindfulness, holding our experience in balanced awareness. She offers exercises guiding the reader through each of these processes. She helps us see that suffering is caused by resisting pain and offers us an alternative.
Why should we engage in self-compassion? In case this doesn’t seem self-evident to you, let me cite some of the research she offers as to the advantages of self-compassion. Get ready to be impressed. Research shows that people who are self-compassionate, compared to those who aren’t, are: less anxious and depressed, experience few negative emotions, ruminate less, are less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions, have more emotional intelligence, have more perspective on their problems and fell less isolated by them, experience less self-consciousness when thinking about their problems, and have lower cortisol levels and higher heart rate variability (an indicator of the ability to adapt effectively to stress).
People with high self-esteem tend to be cheerful, report having lots of friend and are motivated in life. However, they also tend to be cliquish, to be as prejudiced as those who dislike themselves and as likely to engage in socially undesirable behavior as people with low self-esteem. Self-esteem is an evaluation our worthiness, a judgment that we are good, valuable people. Our sense of self-worth is contingent on our success or failure, on the approval or disapproval of ourselves and others. On the other hand, self-compassion is not a thought or a label about our goodness or badness. It is a way of relating to our experience at the center of the complex interactions of the many factors operative in our lives. The good feelings of self-compassion come from caring about ourselves and treating ourselves accordingly. Self-compassion offers the same advantages of high self-esteem without the downsides. Self-compassion motivates us towards personal growth because that is good for us, not because it is something we should do. It helps open us to being sensitive to the pain of others without being overwhelmed by it. Self-compassion helps us appreciate who we are and what we have in life and feel gratitude for all of it. Do yourself a compassionate favor and let yourself be transformed by reading this book.