Caregivers: are you kind and compassionate to yourself?
The other day I (over)heard this woman say she was sick of hearing about self-compassion. She couldn’t turn around she said, without seeing it in magazines, newspapers, online blogs, on the radio. It is just everywhere, she said.
While I wasn’t sure why this woman was sick of hearing about self-compassion, her comments and perspective concerned me. I have noticed a backlash or resistance that can come up when the subjects of self-love and self-compassion are raised. For sure, it can feel unnatural at first. You may even see self-compassion as “hoaky” or “silly”. From my perspective, the benefits make it worth working through any resistance.
What is natural is wanting to feel good about ourselves. Self-compassion is a way to do this without having to compare ourselves and without the negative judgements of ourselves when things aren’t going too well.
The following two exercises are adapted from the current expert on this topic, Dr. Kristin Neff. You can approach these exercises as a scientist or researcher and you can use yourself as the research subject. Imagine you are on a mission to find out experientially what self-compassion is all about. The worst thing that can happen is that you will treat yourself better….
Ready to go for it? Self-compassion break
Think of a difficult situation, one that is stressful for you. Try to actually feel the stress and discomfort in your mind and in your body (don’t worry, you don’t hang on to this stress and discomfort for long!)
NOW, say to yourself:
- “This is a moment of suffering.” (Mindfulness) If you don’t like this language, use other descriptors such as “This is painful,” “This hurts,” or “This is stress.”
- “Suffering is part of life.” (Common humanity)
Alternatives: “I am not alone,” “Other people feel this way,” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
Now, put your hands over your heart and feel the warmth and gentle touch of your hands.
If you cannot get your head around putting your hands on your heart, then find another kind of soothing touch that feels like a better fit for you. This physical gesture actually releases oxytocin, knownas the “hormone of love and bonding.” The point is that when we are kind and compassionate towards ourselves, there is a real positive impact on our bodies and minds.
3. “May I be kind to myself?” (Self-kindness)
What is the kindest thing you can say to yourself right now in relation to your situation? Examples: “May I accept myself in this moment?” “May I forgive myself in this moment?” “May I be patient with myself in this moment?” “May I be at peace?” or “I am doing the best I can.”
Ideally, you will apply this self-compassion break when you need it and often enough for self-compassion to feel natural.
Need it to be even simpler?
When you notice that you are coming down on yourself or being critical of yourself, think about how a loving friend would respond. Alternatively, if your friend were in the same position as you right now, how would you respond to them? Respond to yourself in the same way.
Neff has all eventualities covered. If you notice that you would respond negatively and critically to your friend, she advises, then choose a divine or spiritual figure instead and ask yourself how they would respond to you. Now, turn around and give this compassion to yourself.
If you want to complete a quick self–assessment to find out your current level of self-compassion, go to Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: www.selfcompassion.org.
What I love is that this exercise and other self-compassion exercises can be woven into our daily life easily. That is, we don’t have to find or make time for it. It’s about how we choose to treat ourselves.
Have you tried this or any other self-compassion exercise? What has been your experience with it?