In her tremendously popular first book, Self-Compassion, psychologist Kristin Neff, Ph.D., transformed our approach to self-care and how we see our relationship with ourselves.
Based on research, she developed a model of self-compassion with three elements of learning to be kind to yourself.
First, you can consciously choose to see yourself with self-kindness instead of self-judgment. You can opt to practice kindness by treating yourself as you would someone you love and care about.
Second, you can choose between seeing yourself in isolation and believing you’re the only one who’s suffering versus seeing your common humanity. Seeing yourself as human provides comfort in realizing that your suffering is not unique to you, but an experience that everyone has from time to time.
Third, you can choose mindfulness instead of over-identification. It is possible to be receptive and allow the experience without getting wrapped up in it or over-identifying and hyper-focusing on every tiny flaw and foible and magnifying adverse reaction to it.
The three components comprise what Dr. Neff calls “tender self-compassion.” These teachings have revolutionized how we care for ourselves. But, these three elements turned out to be only part of the story of self-compassion.
In her latest book, Dr. Neff introduces the concept of fierce self-compassion. Kindness and perceptive-taking allow us to accept ourselves as we are. But we must also know how to act courageously to protect ourselves from harm, say no to others to meet our own needs, and advocate for change in ourselves and society.
We need both tender and fierce self-compassion.
Like yin and yang, the right balance between the two forms will vary depending on the situation. Without a bit of fierceness, tender self-compassion may run the risk of becoming passive and over-compromising. On the other hand, fierce self-compassion without tenderness can lead to hostility and selfishness. The balance of self-compassion illustrated through the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang is a metaphor throughout the book.
You can’t just read about self-compassion—you must live it through practice. Dr. Neff inspires readers to develop their own tender and fierce self-compassion. With cutting-edge research, fascinating personal stories, and well-developed self-compassion-focused practices, Kristin Neff shows women how to use fierce and tender self-compassion to succeed in the workplace, buffer against burnout, improve relationships, and speak up about injustice. She explores core issues related to gender, such as why women aren’t more compassionate to themselves and what women do for their love of others. This book empowers women to let go of self-criticism, draw boundaries, and become fierce.
Although the book is written explicitly to show women how to harness the power of fierce self-compassion, everyone should read Fierce Self-Compassion. We all have a part to play in helping women embrace their fierce self-compassion capabilities, and everyone can deepen their appreciation of the value of fully integrated self-compassion.
Fierce Self-Compassion expands our notion of self-kindness and its capacity to transform our lives. Women who can balance tender self-acceptance with fierce action will claim their power and change the world.
Dr. Tara Well is a psychology professor at Barnard College in New York City where she developed a mirror-based meditation called “a revelation” in the New York Times. She has taught hundreds of people how to use the mirror to awaken self-compassion, manage emotions, and improve face-to-face communication. Find out more at www.MirrorMeditation.com
Image courtesy of Polina Kovaleva.