by Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
As we continue to adapt and manage our lives under the unusual circumstances of COVID-19, it’s as important as ever to make sure we’re giving ourselves the care and attention we need. In fact, according to Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, “When we go through major life crises, self-compassion appears to make all the difference in our ability to survive and even thrive.”
I’ve noticed that we often find it easier to feel compassion for others – for our children, our friends, our pets – than to turn that compassion towards ourselves. For some, self-compassion may feel like self-pity or selfishness or weakness, or they may believe that being hard on themselves motivates them to “do better”. We may use harsh words towards ourselves as a way to protect us from the harsh judgments of others, perhaps as an attempt to inoculate ourselves. Paradoxically, it has the opposite effect. Harsh self-judgment - our inner critic - makes us feel worse, not better.
To understand what self-compassion is, it may help to understand the difference between compassion and empathy. They’re similar in the way they both require us to put ourselves in another’s shoes. However, compassion includes the ability to stay present with another’s pain without being overwhelmed by it, and to be able to help from a place of love and kindness. Staying present with our own pain can be quite difficult, and people are very resourceful in finding all sorts of ways to escape it, but our escapes are short-lived. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is limitless once it is cultivated.
Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as, “being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate… it involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience and… taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.” Practicing self-compassion expands our ability to achieve growth and change for ourselves, as well as to support others. When we’re able to feel compassion toward ourselves, it fortifies us from the inside out and makes us more resilient in the face of adversity.
A 2017 study published in Health Psychology Open found that “people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better.” Dwelling on stressful events can create chronic health issues including spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar, along with suppression of the immune system. Self-compassion is the antidote. Research has consistently shown that self-compassion decreases anxiety and depression symptoms by improving our ability to better handle stress and allows us to have more emotional resources to share with others.
To cultivate self-compassion, try using:
Physical gestures, such as placing your hand on your heart or giving yourself a gentle hug (even it feels a little silly at first). This releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
Compassionate language towards yourself. Notice what you say to yourself – is it critical or is it supportive? Practice speaking to yourself as you would to a child or a good friend.
Self-care –Make yourself a cup of tea, spend some time in nature, get adequate sleep and physical activity, prioritize your own needs by saying no sometimes. Remember, it’s self-care, it’s not selfish.
Self-compassion is the salve that eases our suffering –our everyday experiences of stress, frustration, anger, or feeling badly about ourselves. It takes courage to be able to stay present with uncomfortable feelings, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to practice bringing more self-compassion into your daily life.
Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing counseling to adults experiencing depression, anxiety, issues related to trauma, life transitions, and relationships. Trudy customizes her approach according to each client’s needs, using Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as the foundation for their work together, helping clients to notice, bring compassion to, and acceptance of their inner experience. Trudy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 267-652-1732.