Why Self-Compassion Matters

“We are what we believe we are” – CS Lewis

The concept of self compassion at its simplest is being a good friend to yourself. We often (but not always) know what we would say to a friend if they were having a rubbish time or feeling negative about themselves, but are often much more critical of ourselves than we are towards others. We don’t always say to ourselves things like “you tried your best” or “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time”. We often aren’t as friendly and warm when we talk to ourselves as we would be when talking to friends or others.

Self-esteem (feeling good about ourselves) requires feeling above average and this involves comparing ourselves to others. We start putting others down to feel better about ourselves and this can lead to us feeling judgemental towards others. We need to feel superior to feel OK, and to do this we blow others candles out in trying to shine brighter ourselves. It means that we struggle to feel happy for others when they succeed. And what sucks about self-esteem is that when you fail something, it abandons you and you’re left feeling rubbish about yourself – I’ve failed because I’m a failure.

According to Kristin Neff who has spent her career researching self compassion, you need 3 components to self compassion so that it doesn’t become self pity. These are

  1. Self kindness – treating ourselves with the kindness and warmth we would show to a friend
  2. Common humanity – the understanding that life is hard and that others are also going through hard things
  3. Mindfulness – an understanding of what we are feeling and experiencing

Common humanity is important because if we think it is only us experiencing hard times then we feel sorry for ourselves and experience self-pity. It needs mindfulness because we need to understand what we are thinking and feeling and to be able to sit with how we feel, feel the pain and have compassion towards ourselves. We have to be able to turn towards our feelings, and this involves knowing what we’re actually feeling.

What I love about self compassion is that you still get the benefits of having a high self-esteem, but it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what anyone else thinks of you. You don’t need to be better than anyone else. You can fail. Life can be hard or you can mess things up. It’s part of life that we all go through hard times and that we all will mess up. But self compassion allows us to say to ourselves “it’s OK”, “I understand”, “everyone feels like this sometimes”, “you’re not a failure because you’ve failed an exam”, “of course you feel like this, it’s so understandable”, “you’re doing the best you can”.

If we can allow ourselves to fail and to mess up, but then be gentle and kind to ourselves about it, we can learn and we can grow. We don’t become paralysed with fear of failure or fear of rejection. When a baby learns to walk we expect it to take a while and for them to fall over hundreds of times. We don’t pick them up and tell them not to bother anymore. And so is life. If we can be kind enough to ourselves that falling down is inevitable and trying again is the way forward then failure stops paralysing us. Self compassion isn’t about striving towards a perfect version of yourself, but about accepting yourself as you are.

How much is your inner critic really interested in your wellbeing? Where does the critical inner voice even come from? Whose voice is it? Maybe someone who judged you harshly when you were younger? A critical parent or teacher? Because if we’re honest, if we had a friend who was highly critical of us and kept saying mean things to us then the wisest thing would be to steer clear of them. And yet we so often allow ourselves to say such things and become so used to it that we don’t even notice how critical we can be to ourselves.

Compassion is about kindness, acceptance and non-judgement. How can you offer these things to yourself? Be kind to yourself because you’re doing the best you can.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” – Dalai Lama

 

Self Care When You Have Nothing Left

“The time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time” Bertrand Russell.

When life is at its hardest, for whatever reason, sometimes the very things that can help us feel better can feel like such massive hurdles to accomplish. I might know that spending time with others really helps me feel like I’ve had a good day, but the times when I need that most are the times when it is much easier to isolate myself and to not get in contact with anyone.

Sometimes self care is about reaching out to others when I’d rather hibernate. Maybe it’s choosing to relax and be late instead of being on time and totally stressed out. Or taking the time to have a shower and start my day as I’d like to. Motivating myself to go for a run, knowing that I’ll feel good afterwards, even if I don’t want to do it right now. Sometimes we only have the energy to focus on tiny steps forward and anything else feels too much and too overwhelming. Sometimes these little decisions can feel big, but they make us feel like we matter and that we’re taking care of ourselves. Like we have a purpose and are heading towards something better. So why does doing things for ourselves feel selfish? Or like it is time wasted that could be better spent.

If your car is running out of petrol or your phone is running out of battery, you know what to do. We usually don’t wait for them to totally run out before we buy petrol, or we plug the phone in to charge. Also, a car uses more fuel when it is heavily laden and a phone uses battery more quickly when lots of apps are running.

The energy we have is the same, even when it doesn’t feel quite as simple. If we don’t look after ourselves, we burn out. Self care is really about living and building a life we don’t need time out from. As we look after ourselves we connect with our authentic self and can experience a sense of peace and calm.

When life isn’t hard, these things barely need a consideration, but when life is hard sometimes we overlook our needs and it feels impossible to do the very things that help us. Maybe the needs of those who depend on us take up what feels like all of our energy and we feel like we have nothing left for ourselves. Sometimes self care is about adjusting expectations about what can be achieved in a day or putting things off for another day. At a time in my life when I was experiencing severe sleep deprivation, my expectations of what I could achieve had to be drastically culled.

Sleep is so fundamental to our wellbeing – to our health, our happiness and quite simply, our functioning. I would advise that you don’t google ‘can I die of sleep deprivation?’ because it is pretty depressing reading that lack of sleep can cause quite a lot of things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There’s a good reason that it is used as a form of torture. And so many articles that I read when I was in the haze of sleep deprivation talked about it as if it was a choice and that it is just a case of not working too hard, needing to spend a bit more time relaxing and going to bed earlier to prioritise sleep a bit more. If only…

But what about if you have insomnia? Chronic pain? Young children? You are racked with grief? Or in my case, I had a son with such severe sleep apnoea that my husband and I took it in turns to hold him in a position where he could breathe. All night long some nights. When there isn’t enough sleep available to function on, and there hasn’t been for years, then no amount of bubble baths or relaxing before bed can help. Life becomes about pure survival, and all the things that supposedly help feel trite. It feels impossible to find time for yourself, and you don’t have the energy to make the effort anyway.  It feels as though no one understands how hard life is and how overwhelming simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher or cooking a meal can feel. Things that you normally enjoy feel like a whole lot of effort.

Self care is a choice, but is one that feels monumentally hard at the times we need it the most. But there’s no point waiting for the future or for when things change to get the life you want. Whether or not life is hard currently, how can you give yourself a break today? What you might feel like you need is 2 weeks in the Maldives but if you had an hour to yourself today and could do whatever you want to (no work or chores allowed), then what would you choose?

If you don’t have an hour, how could you get some of that in 5 minutes that you know you’d appreciate? What can you start today that your future self will thank you for? How can you make little steps towards living the life you would love to be living even if life feels hard at the moment?

Because time you enjoy wasting, isn’t wasted time.

How Do We Become Resilient?

“With every drop of pain on the human heart, wisdom grows” Aeschylus

Resilience is a buzzword at the moment. But what does it mean?

Resilience can be defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.

In reality, we aren’t elastic bands and we don’t spring back to where we started. When we go through adversity, we change.

Did you know that if you cut a butterfly out of its chrysalis, it would be fully formed with wings, but wouldn’t be able to fly? The process of getting itself out and breaking free is what strengthens the wings enough to be able to fly. And the same goes for us. Going through challenges and the difficult things life throws at us is what can make us stronger. If we can get through it without getting stuck.

And that’s where counselling can help. Counselling can give you space to be, where you matter, with someone to walk alongside you and support you. And to help you find your way through and out of your chrysalis – whatever that might be.