The Definition of Self-Compassion: 3 Elements of Self-Love

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

What is the definition of self-compassion? Why is self-compassion so important?

In Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff says that many people are too hard on themselves and need to boost their self-worth. She explains that people need to practice self-compassion to do so.

Let’s look at Neff’s definition of self-compassion so you can appreciate yourself more.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Neff says that the definition of self-compassion is a mindset and practice in which you show yourself the same care for your own failures and pain that you’d show someone you care about deeply. Self-compassion centers on three practices:

  1. Be kind to yourself when you’re suffering—not critical and judgemental of yourself.
  2. Recognize that suffering is a universal human experience that connects you to others. 
  3. Mindfully acknowledge your suffering as-is. In other words, don’t exaggerate or diminish your pain. 

(Shortform note: In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama offers a more in-depth understanding of the role of suffering in life, arguing that accepting suffering is the first crucial step toward eliminating it. You must confront the hard truth that life is suffering to free yourself from its root causes of ignorance, craving, and hatred. And when you accept that there’s no escape from suffering, you won’t add to your pain by holding onto the delusion that you shouldn’t experience it.)

Neff says that when you change how you relate to your suffering by practicing self-compassion, you create a calm, safe space to reflect on it honestly and in the broader context of others’ challenging experiences. This allows you to: 

  • Address your challenges more thoughtfully than if you had simply reacted to them from a place of heightened emotion.
  • Open up to and connect with others’ experiences of suffering, which tunes you into your connection to others and the broader human experience. 
  • Look for and appreciate positive things about yourself and the world around you.

(Shortform note: In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown argues that one reason people struggle to confront their imperfections is that they want to control how others perceive them. She asserts that perfectionists try to hide their flaws by projecting an image that everything’s perfect. But this is a dangerous road because failure is an inevitable part of life. When you experience it, you may find ways to hide it from others, but you can never hide it from yourself. The result is that you’ll shame and judge yourself for not living up to your impossible standards, bringing yourself greater misery.)

Self-Compassion and Self-Appreciation

Neff says that a complement to showing compassion in the face of your failings and suffering is showing appreciation for the good in your life. As is true with recognizing and tending to your pain, when you acknowledge and embrace your positive qualities and joy you tap into a universal connection between you and other people. In contrast, when you downplay or dismiss your goodness, you create a divide that shuts you off from humanity. 

Neff says you can show appreciation for yourself by setting an intention to notice your positive qualities. If feelings of discomfort or embarrassment arise as you do this, remind yourself that everyone has positive qualities and celebrating them offers you a point of connection.

(Shortform note: Showing yourself appreciation doesn’t have to be an outward display centering on engaging others—there are many ways to appreciate yourself all by yourself. For example, give yourself a hug! Do something kind for yourself like buy a book you’ve wanted to read or sing along to your favorite album. You can also remind yourself of all the things you’ve accomplished by keeping a list of big and small things you’re proud of, for example, of nice things you do to help others, an award you won for bowling, or recognition you got at work for a great report.) 

Neff says that people often have difficulty showing appreciation for the parts of their lives that are good due to fears. For one, they may fear that if they talk about good things in their life, something bad will inevitably happen and bring everything crashing down. Or they might worry that if they acknowledge their goodness and successes to others, people will get jealous and not want to be around them. 

(Shortform note: Neff doesn’t explicitly say how to address these fears, but experts offer several steps to address fears hampering your success. Figure out your fear’s origins, make a list of ways it’s sabotaging you, visualize the possible positives and negatives that may come when you succeed, and determine how you’ll deal with those things.)

The Definition of Self-Compassion: 3 Elements of Self-Love

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Kristin Neff's "Self-Compassion" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Self-Compassion summary:

  • The key practices, benefits, and obstacles to embracing self-compassion
  • How self-compassion can improve your relationships with others
  • The two biggest obstacles to self-compassion and how to overcome them

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.