Book Review: “The Self-Compassion Diet” by Jean Fain
Jean Fain’s book, The Self-Compassion Diet (Penguin Books) is a fascinating look at self-compassion. I’ve read it twice now, but I’m still not sure what all the fuss is about.
Is it just a bunch of woo? Or does it have something to do with our innermost feelings?
Fain writes: “I am writing this book because I believe that compassion, kindness and empathy are essential to personal growth.” And then she goes on to say: “But when these qualities are lacking, they can lead us into situations where we feel powerless or helpless. They can cause us to make poor choices.”
Sounds good, right?
But let’s take a closer look at her ideas.
Self-Compassion vs Compassion
In order to understand why Fain believes compassion is so important, we need to first define those two words. According to Merriam Webster: “compassion” means “the feeling of sympathy or concern for another person; pity.” And “self-compassion” refers to the ability to feel sympathetic toward oneself.
So both compassion and self-compassion are about feeling concern for others…but one deals with other people and the other deals with ourselves.
Why is self-compassion so important?
Fain explains: “Because genuine self-confidence comes from within, not from the external sources of flattering friends or coddling partners.” In other words: if we don’t feel good about ourselves, we won’t be able to make good choices. Or as Fain puts it: “Self-confidence comes from the knowledge that you have the inner resources to deal with whatever the world throws at you.”
But what about other people? Why not feel compassion for them and not just ourselves?
Fain explains that by putting others first, we end up forgetting to take care of ourselves. This can lead to a whole host of problems.
For example: if you’re going for a walk and you see a hurt bird, do you help it or keep on walking?
Let’s say you help the bird. The next time you go for a walk, you’re likely to see another hurt bird. And because you stopped to help the first one, you feel compelled to help the second one too. Soon, you’re walking slower and slower with each passing day. Before long, you stop walking altogether.
You’ve gotta help all these birds!
But what if you didn’t help any birds? What if you just kept on walking?
After all, they’re just birds!
They can fly away, right?
Not so quick. Let’s say you go for another walk the next day and see another bird.
Do you help it or keep on walking?
Chances are, you’ll keep on walking — because you know that stopping to help every bird will only slow you down. And that’s exactly what you want … isn’t it?
You see, by helping the first bird, you didn’t just help one bird. You helped an entire flock of birds! By refusing to stop and help, you are a ruthless bird-hater. And that’s okay too. It’s your choice.
But don’t kid yourself that you’re some kind of virtuous person for helping birds because that’s not true. You only helped one…but you didn’t help the second.
The point here is that stopping to help the first bird can be detrimental to your well-being…and the same goes for helping others. The more we help, the more we risk. There are times when it’s better for us to turn a blind eye and keep on walking.
Sure, the world might be a prettier place if we all looked after one another…but it wouldn’t be as fun.
Of course, the flip-side of this is to not help others because it’s the ‘right thing to do’ (and I’m not even talking about religion here). That’s also a judgment call and one that can have even worse repercussions.
For example: let’s say you see a man beating a woman up. You could easily step in and break it up…or you could just keep on walking. It’s not like you know either of them and chances are, it’s not your business anyway.
But what if the man is your abusive uncle whom you haven’t seen in fifteen years? What if the woman is an old classmate from high school who you had a secret crush on? What if it’s your best friend? What if it’s your sister?
We all have conflicts of interest and we’re faced with these decisions every single day. No matter what you do or don’t do, there are always going to be consequences. Things might turn out badly…or they might turn out fine. It’s impossible to tell.
The whole point of this book is to help you make the right choices…but ultimately, I can’t do it for you. I’m not standing beside you at all times (unless you’re reading this book in which case, Hi!) and I can’t possibly know all the factors involved in your life.
You have to ultimately pick your own path and live with the consequences. And that’s where this book comes in.
Sources & references used in this article:
The self-compassion diet: A step-by-step program to lose weight with loving-kindness by J Fain – 2011 – books.google.com
The self-compassion diet: guided practices to lose weight with loving-kindness by J Fain – 2011 – ehubassist.anu.edu.au