Fierce Self-Compassion by Dr Kirstin Neff

Book Review by Dr Bibiana Chan

Fierce Self-Compassion – How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim their Power and Thrive! Dr Kristin Neff

This is Dr Neff’s 2nd book on ‘Self-Compassion’. I read her first book (published in 2011) when I was in a serious relapse of clinical depression. The key take-home message then (2013) was the awakening of ‘treat myself as my best friend and Be kind to SELF!’ In her 2nd book (published in 2021) after accumulating 30 years of research evidence, Neff called all women to practise ‘Fierce Self-Compassion’ to speak up and stand up for themselves. She used the metaphor of the Chinese concept of ‘Yin-Yang’ to describe the Tender (Yin) Self-Compassion – Kindness towards oneself (comforting), address one’s needs (Soothing) and respond to them (Validating) while Fierce (Yang) Self-compassion turns to ‘Protecting the little ones like Mama Bear’; Providing for a wider community and Motivating others to follow their passion!’

In most cultures (especially collective-orientated ones), the socialisation process ‘shapes’ young girls to conform to the social norms, be submissive to powerful figures and self-sacrifice for societal common good. You can find out more from the section ‘Nice Girls Don’t Get Angry’ n the chapter ‘Angry Women’.

Dr Kristin Neff not only explained her research findings in her book, she provides practical exercise to help readers cope with challenges in life and negative emotions arising from these challenges.  I found the link to the audio version of a guided ‘Tender Self-Compassion Break’. Try it yourself this weekend!

It really amazes me that Dr Kirstin Neff is so widely read that she understands the Chinese word for anger 生氣 ‘Sheng-Qi’ literally translated to ‘To generate Qi – energy’. She ‘labelled’ this ANGER as ‘a Yang form of Qi! She then talked about when yin and yang aspects of ‘Qi’ are in harmony, there’s health well-being and contentment! This is something I learnt as a little kid! I never connect ANGER with ‘Yang form of Qi’! From now on, when I am angry, I will try to find the matching ‘Yin energy’ to harmonize the ‘Yang energy’ (i.e. anger) to make it CONTRUCTIVE (as compared to being DESTRUCTIVE OR AGGRESIVE)!

Another insight Dr Neff shared with her readers after taking on research into Self-Compassion is ‘The suppression of women’s anger helps maintain unequal power relationship!”

This resonates with my conclusion of why more females are diagnosed with clinical depression than males – suppressed negative emotions and a socially well-maintained power differential between males and females. Up to these days, we are still talking about a glass ceiling to prevent women climbing to the top of the corporate ladder!

In the final chapter ‘Caring for Others Without Losing Ourselves’ is another important lesson for me to learn. As a daughter, a wife or a mother, I was taught to believe I should give priorities to the others’ needs above my own.  I only discovered the importance of ‘self-care and ‘love myself’ after my first relapse. Saying ‘NO’ is never easy for me. One strategy I learnt now is NOT to say ‘yes or no’ too soon but ‘buy time’ to check my diary first!

Neff is very generous in sharing her own journey of practising self-compassion while taking care of her autistic son; the passion in pursuing her research, her lived-experience of struggles and challenges with her romantic relationships. This is a must have in every woman’s tool box (just imagine carrying a tool box like the tradies)!     

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