As healers, we are always oriented towards caring for the other and we tend to forget ourselves in the midst of all of our caring, or at the very least, we put ourselves near the bottom of the priority list.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can care for others and care for ourselves. Mindful Self-Compassion is a great tool to support our ability to be more aware of our own suffering and treat ourselves with love and compassion.
I know that I’m a better therapist when I take care of myself and I am intentionally kind to myself. When I’m feeling loved and cared for by me, I have more to give to others.
When I heard that Kristin Neff, the Queen of Self-Compassion, was coming out with a workbook, my heart started beating a bit faster.
I love Dr. Neff and I love workbooks.
I love anything that helps me move from the abstract to the practical. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.
Of course, I like to understand why I’m doing it, but after that, just give me the skills so I can get to work already. (You sense my impatience, right? I’m a “get stuff done” kind of person and I love learning new tools to help me live my best life and that I can also share with my clients.)
As soon as the workbook arrived on my doorstep, I began working through it. The book is called The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive written by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and Christopher Germer, Ph.D.
In the workbook, Drs. Neff and Germer outline the three core elements of Mindful Self-Compassion.
I’ve been practicing the three core elements for a few weeks now and I’m loving it.
I want to share with you what I’ve been learning, practicing and thriving on.
The 3 Core Elements of Mindful Self-Compassion
To start off, we need to become aware of, and acknowledge, that something has happened that has caused us pain and that we’re suffering.We need to say to ourselves, “ouch, that hurts.” Whether it’s something external that happened to us, or something internal that we’re feeling badly about, we need to stop and recognize that we’re suffering in some way.Dr. Neff states, “you can’t heal what you don’t feel.” Mindfulness gives us a chance to pause and reflect so that we can respond rather than react.
- Common Humanity
Suffering sucks. And, it happens to all of us. Suffering is real. It’s unavoidable. You can run, but you can’t hide from pain.The idea of “common humanity” is that we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our pain; everyone is in pain at some point.We can do the ‘pity party’ thing and think “why me?” and believe we are the only ones feeling this way, but in reality, we all hurt, we all suffer.When we feel alone in our suffering, we feel isolated from others, and this only increases our pain. We need to remember that all people feel pain which can bring us into deeper connection with others (and, as Dr. Neff points out, that can even bring us gratitude for what we do have).
For me, this boils down to Be your own best friend. When things get tough, say nice things to yourself.Often, without even realizing it, when we make a mistake or do something we perceive as wrong, inadequate, or ‘less than’ in some way, we immediately rush to self-judgment, we criticize ourselves. It goes back to the old adage that we are our own worst critics.My daughter once told me, “I’m the only one who’s always going to be with myself.” Wha what?! I. Love. That. (She’s SO deep). Understanding that if not me, then who?My friends are super lovely, and they say really nice and comforting things to me when I’m upset, but how about when they’re not around? I need to be my own best friend.I need to be kind to myself, care for myself, and say nice things…to…me.Drs. Neff and Germer also suggest offering yourself a physical gesture of affection such as placing a hand or two over your heart, or placing a hand on your cheek, or gently stroking your arms. Anything that feels kind and comforting to yourself. I can tell you that I felt a little bit strange about this (and I’m a touchy-feely person), but once I tried it and realized how much deeper it took my practice of self-kindness, now I kinda love it.
Suffering without Mindful Self-Compassion
I get migraines pretty often. I’ve done everything I can to get rid of them, or at least minimize them, but they are just a part of my life, and they hurt. I have found Mindful Self-Compassion to be immensely soothing when I get a migraine. Previously, when I got a migraine, I might feel angry and frustrated that I’m in pain, feel sorry for myself and isolate myself in my suffering, and then even get mad at myself that I somehow brought this on myself. None of these things helped. In fact, they often made my suffering worse. With Mindful Self-Compassion, the scenario is completely different. I still feel psychic and physical pain, but it feels more tender.
Suffering with Mindful Self-Compassion
When I put Mindful Self-Compassion into practice, first, I give myself permission to acknowledge and feel the suffering. Second, I remember that others also suffer, I’m not the only person who endures migraines, and indeed, I’m grateful that I have medications that actually work. And lastly, I say nice things to myself. I might say, “it’s going to be o.k., the pain will end at some point, why don’t you go take care of yourself, maybe make yourself a comforting cup of tea, sit still for bit, put a hot pad on your shoulders, watch a funny show on Netflix….” It’s nice to hear those things, and I can tell you, it feels very different from what I used to say to myself… “I can’t believe I have another migraine, this sucks, I hate pain, why me, I must keep working…”
Practice. Practice. Practice.
When I first learned about Mindful Self-Compassion, I knew that practice was the only way to begin to understand it and make it a part of my life, so I started reciting the three core elements to myself on my walks with my dog. As he sniffed his way through the neighborhood, I would repeat to myself, “Mindfulness, Common Humanity, Self-Kindness” and then look back on my day and see where I could put them to use.
Mindful Self-Compassion is one of those beautifully simple yet surprisingly complex and layered practices. The more you do it, the more you get from it. And if you read through the whole workbook, you get to learn more of the subtleties of the practice and grow deeper in it.
Feeling like a failure
Like all of us, I have often had the experience of feeling like a failure, of feeling ‘less than’ because of some shortcoming that I have. Recently, I had planned to cook dinner for my family but I got caught up at work and didn’t get home until later than intended. In fact, as I was rushing around the kitchen, my son came in ready to eat before a long evening soccer practice. I had completely forgotten that he had to leave so soon. I started running around the kitchen trying to quickly make him something to take with him (thank God he will still eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!), all the while, in my brain I was berating myself and saying unkind things to myself because, in my mind, I had failed my son and arrived home too late to make him a decent meal before practice. Being the chill kid that he is, my son tried to reassure me that it was o.k., but internally, I would have none of that, I was a failure.
As soon as he was out the door, I stopped, took a breath, and tried to remember how to put into practice my new Mindful Self-Compassion skills. First, Mindfulness, I noticed that I was feeling sad and frustrated with myself. I was upset that I hadn’t provided well for my kid. Next, Common Humanity. After acknowledging my painful feelings, I reminded myself that I’m not alone, other parents screw up too, it happens. I’m not the only one to feel frustrated for being late and not feeding my family on time. And in fact, I’m grateful that I have food in the house to feed my family at all. Finally, Self-Kindness. I said nice things to myself. “It’s o.k., you goofed up. You forgot about his practice. Life happens. He is fine (thank you PB & J!). You are a good person. You are loving and compassionate even if you screwed up. All is well.” After all of this, I was able to let go of my negative feelings towards myself and move forward to enjoy cooking dinner for the rest of my family. Thank you Mindfulness Self-Compassion.
How Self-Compassionate are You?
If you’re one of those people who likes to know where you stand with something before diving into it, the workbook also includes a self-compassion scale so you can figure out how self-compassionate you really are. The online version breaks down your self-compassion into categories so you can learn about your strengths and, well, let’s not call them weaknesses because we are practicing self-compassion here, let’s just call them, areas of growth ☺
How will you bring Mindful Self-Compassion into your life?
On Dr. Neff’s website, there is an exercise specific to caretaking the caregiver and I love it because it’s all about how we as healers and caregivers need to care for ourselves at the same time as we are caring for others. When I’ve had a particularly intense session with a client, I often need to care for myself and soothe my system by simply taking a walk around the block. While walking, I get to breathe fresh air, move my body, and look for the beauty in nature, all of which helps to ground me and bring me back to the present moment. If I need to practice some mindful self-compassion on my walk, I can do that too.
Let’s do this!
So what do you say? Are you willing to give it a try? Just three steps:
- Common Humanity
As a healing community, we can heal ourselves as we are healing others. It’s doable. Let’s do it!
If you want more self-compassion in your life and you want to find more energy in your work and life, and you live in the greater Seattle area, learn more about me here or contact me to work together to build a more abundant world.