Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

I write and speak often about self-care. Self-care is not always luxurious, but it is necessary. I have said before, it may not be a bubble bath with a glass of wine. It might be more beneficial to spend time getting caught up on paying bills or doing laundry. Having our lives in working order is as much self-care as the moments we take to relax and treat ourselves.  A bubble bath will always be way more enticing than laundry, but feeling  caught up or ahead on the many to-do’s that fill my list certainly takes a load off my shoulders.  Self-care is multifaceted and requires intentional effort. Today, I want to talk about the way we speak to ourselves, the truths we tell ourselves, and the way in which we support ourselves in moments of pain.

I saw a post on Facebook once that seems to come to mind often when I am discussing being kind to ourselves. It said something along the lines of, “Make a list of the things you love…how long did it take for YOU to come to mind?” The goal of the message was to help people realize that they did not think about the importance of loving themselves. How often do you think about loving yourself or demonstrating self-compassion? Do you struggle with the concept of showing yourself compassion?

Kristen Neff authored the book Self Compassion, in this (highly recommended) book she describes in detail 3 elements of self-compassion: 1) Self-Kindness 2) Common Humanity 3) Mindfulness. Neff is clear in distinguishing where self-compassion ends and self-indulgence begins. The best metaphor that I can draw on is that of parenting. When we demonstrate compassion to our children, we do not let them go on feeling sorry for themselves, throwing tantrums in moments of distress, or seeking inappropriate or destructive coping skills.  If my first-born Lennon falls down in softball, I check in with her to make sure she is ok. Given there are no major injuries, I acknowledge her pain but encourage her to keep working hard towards her goal of finishing practice or winning the game. I am kind in my approach with her and allow her the necessary moment to check in with herself and make sure all is well. I do not chastise her or yell at her for falling, but I do encourage strength and bravery as she moves forward from that moment.  When I “fall down” or make a mistake at work, as a parent, or as a wife I, at times, do not naturally offer myself the same kindness, patience, and compassion. I often chastise myself or get stuck analyzing why’s and how’s rather than focusing on moving forward in the moments as they pass. I get stuck criticizing myself rather than acknowledging my own pain and fostering growth and learning from those tough moments.  I get stuck in the cycle of perfectionism and shame, which is the opposite of self-compassion.  However, when I cultivate moments of kind awareness when I am struggling or hurting, compassion pours out of me with increased ease. When I slow down long enough to non-judgmentally recognize the humanity in failure and the inevitability of disappointment from time to time, I find it more natural to move forward with self-compassion.

So why and how does this relate to mindfulness? Now I just (briefly) discussed kind awareness and non-judgmental recognition. That is the essence of mindfulness: taking moments to remove expectation and criticism, to simply exist in the moment. Social Workers are trained to “meet people where they are.” We are taught to remove labels and previously determined expectations. We are taught to actively listen and engage in learning with clients as we assess their language, nonverbal communication, and other cues to help determine a treatment plan. How ridiculous would it be for us to not check in or engage in learning to establish their course of treatment? What if we scolded them from the get go and just advised that they just get their lives together? I would be willing to bet they would NOT be coming back for a follow up session.  So why is it in parenting, in marriage, in a work setting we show others kindness and compassion with ease but we face such difficulty in embracing our own needs with this kind of openness and love?

Maybe this lack of self-compassion is driven by perfectionism or shame?  Perhaps our ideas about what success looks like for us are too rigid. We might have ourselves in a box and falling outside of that box confuses us about our identity or image. Maybe we are terrified of failure? Could it be that we just do not put effort into actively loving ourselves?

Regardless of the hurdles that create a lack of self-compassion in your life, there are steps that you can implement to cultivate increased compassion, kindness, and love in the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself in difficult moments. The first step is to allow moments of that kind awareness that we previously discussed. Meet YOU where you are! How are you feeling in this moment? Receive your feelings with love and let go of judgement.  If you find this kind awareness difficult to achieve, try implementing a mindfulness practice into your daily life. I enjoy guided meditations and use them frequently in my personal mindfulness practice. Having the assistance of a guided meditation helps me hold my focus and set aside certain periods of time where the only goal is presence. The Self Compassion  website has multiple guided meditations that are 5-25 minutes, meaningful, and easy to implement into your practice. I also love The Chopra Center and have purchased multiple meditation experiences that help guide and direct my practice.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it not only allows the space to gain familiarity with yourself it also helps to increase the gray matter in your brain associated with compassion. The Harvard Gazette discusses a study in the article “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain” the findings of an 8 week study of individuals who implemented mindfulness meditation practice into their daily lives. They “found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”  We can exercise and enhance our brain’s capacity to demonstrate compassion more naturally and with ease. That is too cool!!!!

I challenge you to recognize the potential impact of mindfulness and self-compassion in your life. As you gain self-awareness, take time to recognize the tone of your self-talk and your tendency to criticize yourself. Make the decision to change your tone and demonstrate increased love and compassion in your struggles. Recognize that you deserve the same kindness that you show to your loved ones and continue to charge down your path with bravery and strength!

Until next time!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

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