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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Self-Compassion (recommended book)
Does taking a ten-minute break for lunch seem like a selfish luxury… even if you’ve expanded the definition of “break” to include holding a sandwich in one hand while correcting papers with the other? Do you feel bad if you haven’t checked off everything on your “To Do” list… even if deep down you know it would be impossible for any mere human to accomplish everything on your list in a single lifetime?

After a really tough day at work, have you ever snapped at your partner, child, and/or beloved household pet, then felt terrible about it?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re not alone.  Most of the people I know can be pretty hard on themselves.  And most of the people I know happen to be teachers.  I realize this is nowhere near statistically valid, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that a lot of teachers can be pretty hard on ourselves, so we could all use some work on self-compassion.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three components: 
  • self-kindness, being gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental;
  • recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering; and
  • mindfulness, the clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s happening in the present moment

The book includes research about the benefits of self-compassion, techniques for increasing self-compassion (some of which are included on, and stories from Dr. Neff’s own life that show her journey toward self-compassion. 

She’s certainly had her share of suffering, some of which I can relate to, but some of which I can scarcely imagine—like raising an autistic child.  And she’s come up with a number of ways to cope.  Again, some of them I can relate to, but others I can scarcely imagine—like taking an autistic child on horseback across Mongolia (as documented in The Horse Boy: book and documentary).

I think teachers could particularly benefit from Chapter Nine: Compassion for Others, which includes tips for dealing with “compassion fatigue.”  There are also tips for parents on correcting behavior without shaming children, which can be adapted to different types of teaching situations.  (We can sometimes forget how vulnerable our students can feel and how careful we should be in how we phrase our comments.)

After reading this book, my (radically pared-down) To Do list includes taking better care of myself, reminding myself as necessary that this isn’t selfish, it actually improves my relations with other people because I can better empathize with them and communicate with them more clearly.


related posts:
Compassionate Image: A Guided Visualization Practice

I Wish You Peace: A Simple Lovingkindness Meditation

Next Time, I'll Do Better: Recognizing and Learning from Mistakes

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