Self- compassion is an easy concept to understand, yet many people struggle with being kind to themselves. As professional helpers, we all know having self-compassion benefits our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, yet we find it difficult to incorporate this kind of thinking into our lives.
Why is this?
As human beings we resist change. It is easier to stick to our routines, even when these behaviors drain or harm us. Many helpers have formed a habit of putting their needs last, in order to help others. In our society, this type of endless giving, becomes positively reinforced, yet it is not a positive when you lack boundaries.
Many health care workers struggle with self- compassion because change takes mental work. You may be finding yourself in a state of chronic stress. Your jobs have been challenging, but add on the pandemic, you may be feeling as if you can’t take on one more task.
Another factor is, it is easier for your mind to focus on the negative or what is wrong. Rather than focusing on a positive self-care activity, your mind prefers to focus on the struggle of grinding forward. This is a great survival mechanism, however, it does not assist your growth mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
How can we get over this hurdle of not taking care of yourself?
- Educate yourself about the importance of self-compassion
- Schedule self-compassion practices into your calendar with reminders
- When the opportunity presents itself, practice self-compassion. Forgive yourself when you don’t follow through or are giving yourself harsh criticism
“Stop beating yourself up for beating yourself up.”- Eleanor Brownn
Do you ever notice, it is easier to treat others with compassion than ourselves? We all have an inner critic, a judgmental voice which brings our mood down with negative, self- critical thoughts. The best way to decrease the inner critics influence on your life is to first become aware of it.
One technique I teach my counseling and coaching clients is; Notice, Acknowledge, Re-direct
- Increase your awareness- Mindfulness exercises will help you notice critical thoughts more readily. Sometimes, it is helpful to have another person, such as a coach or therapist, to bring attention to faulty thoughts.
- Acknowledge this voice and the feeling- Often this voice crops up when we feel vulnerable. You could be feeling scared, anxious, fatigued or tired. Are you experiencing compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma or burnout? You can say to yourself; I know you are scared, tired etc.
- Redirect- Now is the time to focus on what you want. Put it together. I hear you. I know you are experiencing compassion fatigue. We are going to make a counseling appointment or fill in the blank (self-care activity) ______________________________.
Cognitive therapy works well to increase self-compassion and decrease the inner critic. Cognitive therapy is developed by Aaron T. Beck. In therapy, the therapist helps you develop skills for identifying and changing faulty beliefs, distorted thinking, and implementing new behaviors. This can be useful for developing self-compassion.
Practice self-kindness. Sometimes we can’t think of how to be kind to ourselves. Think of a kind person in your life, what advice would she give to you? How would you talk to a friend or your child?
Compassionate letter writing exercise. This information is from Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. (Neff, 2011) on Amazon.com
The first step in this process is to sit quietly and think about something that triggers feelings of inadequacy, or something about you or your situation that makes you feel badly about yourself. It is important not to judge the emotions or to try to fix them. The focus is on awareness and experience of the feelings.
In the next step, think about an imaginary friend who is kind, loving, accepting, and compassionate to you. This friend knows all about you, even the piece of you that makes you feel bad. How would this friend respond about giving yourself such harsh self-criticism and judgment?
Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this compassionate friend. This involves asking questions such as;
What would they say to you?
How would they remind you that you are only human and humans are not perfect?
Would they suggest you do anything differently?
Once the letter is finished, you can put it away for a while. When you are ready, retrieve the letter and read it again.
Learn to laugh with yourself
Laughter, as a coping mechanism, can decrease stress, improve memory and even make you more productive. Whether you live or work in a stressful environment, find something to laugh about. This eases the psychological and physical tension you carry. Embrace the fact that no one is perfect and laugh off your screw-ups. A mistake can be an experience you learn from or an experience to reinforce negative thoughts and feelings. The choice is yours.
How can you be more kind to yourself?
Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach. She works for caring professionals, who want to prevent or treat compassion fatigue. Her specialty is teaching stress management, assertiveness and boundary setting. Lisa is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; Why Compassionate People Run Out of Energy and What You Can Do About It at http://www.lisahutchison.net