Be kind to you: Boost your self-compassion with these tips

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

Check out my YouTube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC

Compassionate People Need Boundaries Now More Than Ever

Boundaries are essential for those people who have big hearts and a desire to help others. As we approach the one year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began, continuing political unrest, and an awakening of multiple injustices, our society needs all hands on deck.

When I write about the word boundary, I am describing a professional or personal limit. Some examples of professional boundaries are mindfully self-disclosing, leaving work at work and taking your vacation time. Personal limits are your self-care and self-compassion practices. Whether your boundaries are personal or professional, they all represent self-care and self-compassion.

Warning Signs

Stress symptoms indicate a need to increase your boundaries. Stress manifests itself physically (headaches, muscle tension, digestive disorders), emotionally (irritability, restlessness, concentration problems), in relationship with others (communication difficulties or avoiding others), and through behaviors (overeating, increased use of alcohol or drugs). These resulting experiences can set off more stress, leading you into a vicious cycle.

Little or no boundaries can contribute to burnout, illness, and even addiction. Stress is not a sign of failure but rather a warning or indication self-care needs to be increased. Stress reminds us, we are human and we have limits. You can learn how to manage it and feel better.

When You Care Too Much

Too much empathy is not a good thing for compassionate people. Too much sympathy, or working with empathy without proper boundaries drains helpers of energy. This makes you vulnerable to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout.

Compassion fatigue develops when you care too much and lack boundaries. Empaths often suffer from this type of fatigue when they cannot separate their energy from others. This over connection, leads to exhaustion. It can prevent you from empathizing or having compassion, towards others and even yourself. To remedy compassion fatigue, any personal energy management technique will work well. A starting point you may consider is the book I created, I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers. You could also benefit from assertiveness training, boundary setting and cognitive therapy.

Vicarious trauma– During and after a trauma or period of intense stress, such as living through a pandemic, it is normal to feel shell-shocked and reactive. We have been and are still going through a lot. For some compassionate people, it is traumatizing to hear about others trauma or too much trauma all day long. You may experience the symptoms of posttraumatic stress, even though you have not directly witnessed the trauma. For example, you may experience nightmares, flashbacks or memories of the trauma you heard about. There are several treatments to help you process and integrate trauma. Some are talk therapy, expressive arts therapy or EMDR. (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Trauma will not go away on its own.

Burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion compassionate people experience when they have low job satisfaction, feel powerless and overwhelmed at work. This can result from too much work or not enough support from higher ups in the organization you work for. Some people change jobs or their line of work and find burnout goes away. This is different from compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma, which would not lessen with a job change. Some other causes of burnout and compassion fatigue can result from perfectionism or being overly involved with other people’s issues. Cognitive therapy works well with this type of thinking.

In order to prevent or decrease cases of burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious traumatization among compassionate people, it is important to receive education on the signs and symptoms of each. This increases your awareness and allows you to recognize any early warning signs. The next step is reaching out to a professional psychotherapist to help you learn the skills to protect, restore and rejuvenate your personal energy.

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

Check out my YouTube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC