Skill #2: Practice Self Compassion
There are many roles that I have in life: friend, wife, mother, sister, aunt, volunteer, therapist. In each of these roles I intentionally practice loyalty and compassion. Practicing self–compassion, however, has taken me decades to learn.
Why is self-compassion so hard for me?
It could have been my German upbringing. Or maybe just the internal drive I have always had. Perhaps being the third of four siblings had something to do with it. Or the competitive schooling of my former years. Whatever it was, I was always hard on myself. I had high expectations for myself. I was tenacious. One of the healers I work with has called my energy toward myself formidable. Yikes.
Simply put, self-compassion is about treating yourself as you would a friend. If a friend came to me and said, “I haven’t had a break in six months. There are too many plates spinning and I am really starting to feel it,” I would probably ask what I could do to help them. I would help them think about how to schedule a break. I would encourage them to let go of things that don’t really matter in the long run.
But would I do that for myself? In the past, I would have kept pushing, kept assuming that I had to get it all done, make it happen, and just hang in there until the tides turned. However, this past year I was aware on a daily basis that I was improving my self-compassion skills.
Simply put, self-compassion is about treating yourself as you would a friend.
My husband lost his job of almost 20 years. I adjusted my practice to try and make up for the lost income. All of this happened while my dad was slowly failing and finally died. Caring for him, planning a memorial service and cleaning out Dad’s house took endless energy and hours. The HVAC at my office died to the tune of $10,000 and somehow I was also graced with a water leak under the building. I could go on; there was so much more this year. But my point is this; right before Dad died I remember saying to myself, silently, “This year is going to be a bear. Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect anything extra. Know that you will need some recovery time.”
Seriously. I remember talking to myself in exactly this way. I remember holding my hands over my heart while meditating one morning and just saying, “This is going to be hard. Be kind to yourself.” And Friends, this is self-compassion.
The research is clear.
Kristen Neff is a researcher at the University of Texas. Her article about the myths of self-compassion might be helpful to you if you are having thoughts like, ” That’s just self-pity. It will make you weak to practice self-compassion.” But here’s the thing I love about the research on self-compassion. Over and over again, the research shows that people who practice self-compassion are mentally and physically healthier, are more likely to take responsibility for hurting others, are more likely to apologize, and are less afraid of failure.
Less afraid. That is such exciting news. When we aren’t afraid of failing, of being imperfect, when we understand that we are all human and we are all messy and all marvelous, then we can put our hand over our hearts and treat ourselves like we would a friend.
Let’s practice saying this to ourselves.
There’s a problem. I made a mistake. I am human. This is hard. Failure is a possibility. That’s ok. I’ll try again. I can forgive myself. I can be kind and merciful to myself. I deserve a break. I did as well as I could. I will get through this. This failure does not define me. I am worthy of love and tenderness.
When we aren’t afraid of failing, of being imperfect, when we understand that we are all human and we are all messy and all marvelous, then we can put our hand over our hearts and treat ourselves like we would a friend.
I did not know that self-compassion would make me less afraid. Or that it would make me stronger, not weaker. I did not know that the more compassionate I am toward myself the more compassionate others would be as well. And although I have been quite remedial in this area, I am so glad I have learned this now. It is never too late.
Amy Sander Montanez, D. Min., LPC, LMFT has a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. Her book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. Amy is passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com