Self Compassion by Kristen Neff – Book review

Summary

A very interesting book looking at self compassion and how to foster and approach it. A book that I have filled with page markers and annotations for referring back to.

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff
A heavily tabbed Self Compassion book!

Review

Ahimsa / Compassion or non-violence is the first of the Yama (restraints) in the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali. When we talk of compassion we tend to think of this as an outwards thing towards other people. We often find it more difficult directing compassion towards ourselves. It is important that we practice compassion towards ourselves in order that we can be compassionate to others.

The full title of this book is Self Compassion – stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. So, consequently the book sets out the three core components to self compassion; Self Kindness, Common Humanity and Mindfulness. Most importantly this book sets out how to limit self-criticism and its harmful effects.

The Self Critic

One of the most insightful aspects of this book for me personally was understanding the patterns of your inner self critic and where they come from. As a result of this, one can then begin to see that it is not your fault that you have a self critic. In fact, Neff wonderfully points out, we are all just human. We are not perfect and make mistakes, after all we are only human! It is this element of seeing the bigger picture that was also a moment where I sat and reflected. Neff describes this as the greater human experience, being part of the greater humanity. This has parallels to the concept of Ishvara pranidhana in Yoga, surrender to the divine. I often describe this concept as feeling a part of something greater than your individual self. We are all part of the common human experience.

The book nicely explains how the self-critic that we all have is a survival instinct. It originates from the fight or flight response and the associated negativity basis that we have. Our species survived because we were always on the look out for danger. We were able to pre-empt danger. We were able to criticise ourselves for doing things wrongly or for making mistakes. However, this is where the problem now lies. We are not in any immediate survival related danger in our western societies. So the self critic does not serve us well. Consequently the self critic is a source of stress and depression.

The Illusion of Perfection

A further part of this book that was quite insightful was the discussion around the illusion of perfection. The idea that we need to be “perfect.”

All too often , however, our minds fool us into thinking that we can, and in fact should, be other than we are.

Neff, Self Compassion p70

The above quote summarises a common theme in our self critic. It relates to any aspect of life. The book puts this in to context by stating that it is not possible for everyone to be “perfect.” If that was the case there would be no reference point from which to measure. One element of practicing self compassion is allowing yourself to realise that you are only human. Humans make mistakes and in all likelihood many people have made very similar mistakes to you time and time again. Rather than beat yourself up, allow yourself to acknowledge that making mistakes is part of being human.

This approach is therefore absolutely mindfulness. It is about seeing things for how they really are rather than through the skewed view of the self critic. It is about learning to respond to mistakes and challenges with self compassion. This is in contrast to reacting with the same old internal self critical voice.

The book concludes nicely with a chapter on self appreciation. Actually allowing yourself to appreciate yourself! Trying to adopt this as a habit.

In Summary

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff sets out an approach to allow you to be aware of your self critic and to approach it with self compassion. An approach that encourages you to console yourself and acknowledge your feelings and responses to any given stimuli. And to then move forward with self compassion, letting go of the self critic and the associated insecurities.

Further resources

You can find out more about Kristen Neff on her website; https://self-compassion.org/

Here is a previous blog relating to tips for dealing with stress; https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

Time to talk day – lets end mental health discrimination

Thursday 6th February 2020 is Time to Talk Day.

Time to talk Day is a yearly event aimed to encourage people to talk about mental health. The yearly initiative is promoted by Time To Change. https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-talk-day/resources-your-event

Time to Change exists to end the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental health problems. As a result you can find resources to hold your own Time To Talk event at the link above.

The Time to Change website states that their aims are specifically:

  1. Improving public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems.
  2. Reducing the amount of discrimination that people with mental health problems report in their personal relationships, their social lives and at work.
  3. Making sure even more people with mental health problems can take action to challenge stigma and discrimination in their communities, in workplaces, in schools and online.
  4. Creating a sustainable campaign that will continue long into the future.

One in four of us in any year

Statistically, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. We all have mental health and at any given time our mental health will sit somewhere on a scale ranging from feeling great to feeling awful. This will change and it is normal for it to change and consequently our mental health can tip below a point where it starts to cause us problems. At this point when we need help and could do with talking about how we feel, unfortunately we often do not talk.

Time to talk day 2020
Check twice – often people say they are ok when they aren’t

The Time To Change website reports the following;

The overwhelming majority of people with mental health problems report being misunderstood by family members, shunned and ignored by friends, work colleagues and health professionals, called names and much worse by neighbours.

Stigma and discrimination prevent people from seeking help: this can delay treatment and impair recovery.  It isolates people, excluding them from day-to-day activities and making it hard to build new relationships or sustain current ones. It can stop people getting or keeping jobs.

Experiencing a mental health problem is hard enough, without having to deal with the shame and isolation that often comes with it.

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/why-attitudes-mental-health-matter

Our shared human experience

Mental Health problems can feel isolating as mentioned above. We should always remember our shared Humanity. We are all human beings having an experience of life. Part of this experience of life is that we have difficult times and challenges. Some of these challenges may by short in duration and some may last longer. Whatever we experience is part of being human and we are not alone in these experiences. Many other people have been through what you are going through, you are not the only person to feel the way you feel. When we allow ourselves to remember this and accept ourselves as being a human being having a human experience we can take a step back from our feelings of isolation.

Despite what lifestyle magazines, health and fitness magazines and social media portray, pretty much everyone will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their life. This is part of being human. Just as at some point in our life we will likely have physical health problems so too will we experience mental health problems. We are all human. Give yourself permission to be human and accept yourself as being human.

An opportunity to connect

Time To Talk day gives us an opportunity to connect with a greater sense of being part of a wider human experience of life. When we talk to others about mental health we work to remove the stigma around it. We spread the message that it is ok to not feel ok. It is part of our shared experience of being human to not feel ok.

Both Steve and I are open about our own mental health. Steve has detailed on our website in the About us section how it was a period of depression and mental health difficulties that led us to a regular yoga practice. Who knew that it would ultimately take us to where we are now! It was through talking about the challenges that he was facing that Yoga was recommended to us.

Steve, like many of us, has been through a number of episodes of depression and anxiety and continues to use the tools he has learnt over time to manage his mental health in his daily life. This has included talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), medication, yoga, healthy eating, self-care, mindfulness and exercise (too many to list!). And caring for our dog Archie! Steve has also learnt that no matter how bad things seem at the time, it will pass and you will feel better in time.

You can read the About us section of our website here: https://yogasmiths.org/about/

My own mental health

One of my own experience of my Mental Health becoming a problem was with work related stress and anxiety. I can clearly recall sitting at my desk with a huge amount of work to do. Due to this my head felt like it was in a whirl and consequently I sat there unable to do anything. I felt frozen with anxiety. I felt aware that something was wrong and decided to take a walk in the fresh air. Upon returning to the office one of the receptionist asked me if I had been for a jog. As a result of this I went and looked in the mirror and saw someone who did indeed look they had been for a jog, sweating and red in the face.

In that moment, I made the decision to log off and go home. I used Yoga, walking and swimming to help me get through this difficult period. Sometimes I did not want to do those activities, but I never regretted when I did. Slowly I felt on more of an even keel. As a result of this period, I became more aware of what triggered my anxiety and stress. I explored Mindfulness more deeply and began to develop my tool kit of things to help me.

When we feel ok

Time to Change detail on their website that a lot of people think Mental Health is something that does not effect them or the people around them. This in itself is isolating. As a result of this way of thinking people are removing themselves from this shared human experience. We are all in this together. Let us remember this when we are feeling ok and be there for others. Take time to listen compassionately and mindfully to others, do not try to solve others problems, but listen to them. If we feel ok lets make sure we keep our eyes open for those who do not.

Our life long journey

Our life long journey is to learn to live with our fluctuating mental health. The fluctuations of our minds and our emotions. With Yoga, Mindfulness and self-compassion we can build our resilience and tool kit to navigate our way through life. Whatever we experience is part of being human, we are not alone. In my experience, we can learn to control our reactions to stressful events a little more, we can learn what our triggers are. As a result we can experience life less like an extreme rollercoaster and more like a gentle fairground ride! Difficulties still arise, mental health may still raise it’s head as a problem, life can throw many challenges at us. Talking can help us. It is Time to Talk and to help end discrimination and stigma around mental health.

You can find a previous blog containing tips for dealing with stress here; https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/