Self Compassion – Does it Work?

Although this post was one I wrote a while ago, its message is entirely relevant to 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, so I’m republishing it for today.

Interdependence not independence

It’s a little over a year since I read Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion and the topic seems to keep cropping up everywhere – in conversations with other bloggers, and just in life in general. So it seems a good time to write about how my life has changed in the year since I read that book. And yes, it  has changed! You can read my initial review of Self Compassion here.

Before I read Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, I had spent years working to improve my life. Everything I’d done did help. In particular I find the Sedona Method of huge benefit. I have a relative with a serious mental health condition and used to find it very difficult to cope with that. I’ll call this person Albert, to protect their identity. I used to think I needed to help Albert see things differently, to make him better. All that led to was stress and arguments. Realising that instead I could welcome or allow my own feelings when I was in Albert’s company – and I could let them go – was a huge shift for me. My stress levels during out encounters dropped immensely and I could listen without thinking I needed all the answers. I could listen.

I use the Sedona Method’s welcoming and releasing processes every single day – several times a day. It is woven into the fabric of my life. I rarely fully believe any judgment I have of anyone else – what I see in others that I don’t like, I can always find in myself. If I judge you, it will come back at me sooner or later. So I regularly use The Work of Byron Katie to write inquiries into stressful thoughts – (I include some of them in this blog.) I journal almost every day and meditate in my ad hoc way. Self Compassion was by no means the first book I read that emphasised the value of self-care. I don’t even particularly use Kristin Neff’s self compassion mantra, at least not every day.

  • This is a moment of suffering 
  • Suffering is part of life
  • May I be kind to myself in this moment
  • May I give myself the compassion I need. 

Yet it is there in the background of my life now, underpinning everything I do. When I slip into self-blame, it is less vicious than it used to be and lasts for a shorter time. I more easily remember that it serves no useful purpose and remember to treat myself with kindness.

Is it wrong to be kind to ourselves?

Before I read Self Compassion, even with all the work I’d done to let go of old beliefs and behaviour patterns, I had a lingering feeling that it was wrong to be kind to myself, and it was wrong to think that I was good enough. This is a common way of resisting self-compassion, as Kristin Neff points out. She says, “The tendency to criticize ourselves and feel worthless as a result can be traced in part to larger cultural messages.” In other words, most of us are so used to it, that we don’t even realise there could be a different way.

Mostly, we try to combat that by raising our self-esteem – or trying to – by noticing where we are good at stuff and where we are better than other people. But we can’t all be the best all the time, and there will come a day when all of us can’t do much at all. Some people dread that day so much that rather than face it, they end their lives early.

“We’re all in this together.”

If I had to pick one aspect of this book that affected me more than anything, it would be that as Neff says, we are all in this together. Early in my adult life, I worked as a fashion designer. For a few years I even had my own business. This song by Soft Cell, Bedsitter, sums up how I felt at the time.

 

Fashion is an industry where nothing stays the same for long, and it is one where to “succeed” you generally need to stand out. I’ve encased “succeed” in inverted commas because – what exactly is success? Having Prince Charles and Mikhail Gorbachev among his clients, as well as being the youngest person to win British Fashion Designer of the Year, would probably make Alexander McQueen count as successful in most people’s eyes. But not in his own. McQueen killed himself in 2010, at the age of 40.

What is success?

So perhaps I was successful as a designer – I saw that trying to make it big in that world was destroying my already low self-esteem, and I got out. It’s important to notice that it wasn’t the industry that destroyed my self-esteem, it was the belief I had to succeed when I wasn’t, and when I didn’t even know what that meant. It was the belief that I needed to be more confident when I wasn’t, and that I needed to be pushy when I wasn’t. I so strongly believed then that I needed those qualities that I didn’t even stop to question whether the people who were doing better (selling more garments, getting more exposure) than I was had them. I just assumed they did. I also assumed they all had cliques and that I would never be invited in. Yet was McQueen confident in the moment he took his life? Did he feel that he belonged?

In fashion the focus is on the surface. It might seem strange, and it was certainly naive, but I drifted into the business not realising how an industry where the focus is on the superficial would mean that many connections were superficial. I’m not saying that the people in the industry were superficial – nobody is – we all  have depths. But much of the time, the way most people relate to each other in fashion is motivated by the desire to stand out, be different and be seen to be different. This can only ever lead to loneliness. At the bottom of the fashion designer pile, I felt that loneliness. At the top, McQueen felt it too.

Leaving the business didn’t end my loneliness, didn’t make me instantly feel  good about myself. But it was the beginning of a road that I’ve been travelling ever since, a road to connection, interdependence and inner peace. That road has had detours, and a few dead ends. But  the view keeps getting better the further along it I go, so I’ll stick with it.

It seems hard to believe now, but when I read Self Compassion a little over a year ago, I didn’t particularly like the idea that we’re all in this together, or that I am no different to anybody else. I still carried remnants of the belief that the way to succeed, the way to be happy, was to stand out, to be special. Of course, on the surface, I am different to you. I look different, wear different clothes, quite probably I even eat different food (since I’ve eaten vegetarian for a long time) and I might even have different views on politics and child rearing to yours. But those are all on the surface. Underneath, what connects us all, are our emotions and our suffering.

Every person on this planet has moments like the one that Alexander McQueen must have had, moments when we think we can’t go on. Most of us do go on. Because we remember that this moment won’t last forever, because we remember someone does love us, or need us. Because we feel connection. As parents and teachers, many of us think it is important to teach our children independence. But this is part of the same cultural mindset that Neff describes as teaching self-criticism.

Interdependence, not independence, is what makes us happy.



Independence in extreme is alienation. Loneliness. What makes more sense to me, is interdependence. John Donne had it right, over five centuries ago – no man is an island. No woman is either, or child.

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much Yvonne. Your writing as always is a great comfort and a very clearly delivered message.
    I find it fascinating that you have done the Sedona Method, which I have done (and need to do it again). Perhaps I need to read the book you discuss, as well!

    love,

    jean

    1. Author

      Jean, I so pleased you found this a comfort – I love sharing what helpes me. Oh, yes, I love the Sedona Method. It has helped me so much over the time I’ve been using it – about 5 years. And Kristin Neff’s book is great!
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Your words and the way in which you deliver them is so utterly inspiring, Yvonne. I am so thankful that you pointed out the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion/kindness. It’s really huge. And you’re so right – each of us is so much more alike than different. Thanks for another amazing read.

    1. Author

      Kristi, your words and the way you deliver them are so utterly encouraging! 🙂 Thank you.
      And that you found this amazing kinda proves my point about interdependence because without reading Kristin Neff’s book I’d still be grovelling around in the dark trying to figure out the self-esteem/self-compassion differences.
      And doesn’t life just feel so much more enjoyable when we see that we are all connected?
      Thanks for your comment, and have a great week.

  3. I am here with Kristi’s prompting. The paragraph of yours she highlighted in her post today really spoke to me. That need to set yourself apart is definitely in me, too, but it is frustrating and anxiety-producing and hardly productive. I started doing Transcendental Meditation this winter and am still at it. One of the most meaningful statement a teacher said to me was, “You need to have compassion for yourself as well as for your children.” I’ve come to believe the the practice of TM is centered on self-compassion and I feel, like you, that the concept is something I am noticing all the time now that the idea is in my head. I want to read that book!

    1. Author

      Hi Sarah, that post of Kristi’s is great!
      I think the need to set yourself apart is actually universal – it’s one of the “wants” the Sedona Method identifies – a sense of wanting separation. The irony is that of course we also want oneness, so there’s tension between the two. It’s just part of life, and being compassionate with ourselves when we notice this desire is a lot more likely to keep it in balance than beating ourselves for it! Your Transcendental Meditation practice sounds very beneficial, and that teacher is wise!
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. I rather feel like I am visiting from the future – from your link from the #1000voices actually – so months after your post – but this is still very poignant.

    Our experiences – in their specifics – are unique – but the experiences and feelings about them – are, I think, pretty universal. You worked in fashion – I worked in politics – I can draw parallels. I read the Devil Wears Prada – I relate. I read this post – I relate. Power structures are – I think – pretty universal. So how we handle ourselves within them – or our feelings about them – and instructive, and writing about them helps others dealing with the same.

    A great post!

    1. Author

      Louise, I agree with you that while the specifics of our experiences may be unique the feelings are universal. It’s why sharing experiences can help so much – we realise we are not alone.
      Thanks for reading this post!

  5. Hello again. I’ve marked Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself to my Amazon wish list. I was introduced to The Work by my last therapist, so, I know the value there. I also stumbled on Brené Brown and her thoughts on vulnerability perusing YouTube; we reference her a fair bit at the #NoMoreShame Project/Trauma Recovery University.

    Powerful thoughts… lots for me to consider for a while.

    1. I love Brene Brown too and her work on vulnerability is amazing, but for some reason I find it so much easier to be vulnerable in relationship with another human being than I do to demonstrate compassion towards myself, if that makes sense.

    2. Author

      Jaklumen, I feel sure you won’t regret getting the book. Brené Brown is also really inspiring on this. I haven’t read her books, but have read articles and listened to her TED talk.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Yvonne…..thank you for this! I had not heard of The Sedona Method, nor of Kristin Neff’s book, but I wrote about self-compassion for 1000 Voices too (mostly, because I do NOT practice it!), so your post resonated with me. Now I have some resources to go in search of to help me in this regard, so thank you 🙂

    1. Author

      CC, I am very glad that this post was of some help. So many of us struggle with compassion for ourselves, but it is so important. Without it, we wither and don’t fulfil our potential, and we also have less available for others. It’s around 9 months since I wrote this post, and I still work at self-compassion, but it’s worth!
      Thanks for your comment and for taking part in 1000 Voices Speak.

  7. Very interesting Yvonne. I must have a look at this book. And thanks for the follow across at my blog.

    1. Author

      It’s a brilliant book Geoff, and I just saw it’s on special offer of $2 until tomorrow – don’t know if that applies in the UK too though.
      It does get slightly strange in one chapter towards the end, but I got a huge lot out of reading the book.
      And you’re welcome re the follow. I have finally managed to figure out how to follow people on the WP reader, though I also managed to sign up for emails with yours. Don’t write *too* often or I might have to figure out how to change that!! 🙂

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