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Welcome to the final article of the Foundations 101 series: Care. I invite you to Care, for others and especially for yourself. It seems obvious to us to say that we should always aim to treat others with care, compassion, and respect. It has been drilled into our heads since we were little, “Play nice with others.” We pay less attention to how we think about ourselves.
This is the last of the foundational practices but I it may be the most important. I often see people who are missing self-compassion and it leads to a near constant feeling of stress or anxiety. As a registered dietitian, I notice that they are rarely connected with their feelings of hunger and fullness. They often feel that they cannot trust themselves around treat foods. They feel that they have no willpower.
The antidote? Self-compassion. You can have your needs met. You can comfort yourself in a healthy way when you feel that you need to be taken care of. You can come to a place where you don’t need any willpower – you simply take care of yourself. Caring for yourself is simple, but not always easy; especially when you first begin on this journey.
What gets in the way of caring for yourself?
We all have a running commentary of our lives playing in our heads. The thoughts in our head are judging situations as good or bad, judging our interactions with others – she was rude, he was mean, who does he think he is, what was she thinking… On and on it goes. Usually, though, the meanest thoughts in our mind are to ourselves. “You’re a failure.” “You are weak.” “Look at you, you’re so ugly.” “You’re so stupid.” Why do we let ourselves talk to ourselves like this? We would never think to say any of these things to another person we care about. Do we care so little for ourselves?
Sometimes, it seems that we have lost the ability to care for ourselves. We started taking seriously the things that we hear whispered in corners, or the messages that are floating around in our culture, or the fears that we have. We forgot that no matter what we have done, or said, or thought, we are alive. Simply being alive means that we deserve to be cared for, especially by ourselves.
In some cases, we have become deaf to the commentary in our minds. 1 We don’t even realize what we are saying to ourselves, we simply feel the emotions that the thoughts cause. We feel bad – guilty, shameful, resentful, hopeless. We don’t realize that the emotions are caused, not by the situation, but by our reaction to the situation. I know I am in this camp. I didn’t even know how hard I was on myself until I started working with a counselor. I didn’t even know I was a perfectionist until she pointed it out to me (but it was no surprise to my now-husband). 2
Just because we suffer a disappointment or make a mistake does not make us less worthy of care. It may mean that we need to work to repair strains in relationships, or make right a situation. It may mean that we miss an opportunity. But we always deserve to give ourselves care and compassion.
What is self-compassion?
Kristin Neff is the leading researcher in self-compassion. Check out her video here (on why self-compassion is better than self-esteem) and here (on the different aspects of self-compassion). Self-compassion does not mean that you avoid difficult situations or that you stop working towards your goals. It means that you approach those situations from a different mindset, a different perspective. You come to those situations with a greater reserve of strength, because you have taken care of yourself and recovered from the last difficult situation you faced.
Self-compassion is also not selfish. Self-compassionate people:
- Forgive themselves when they make a mistake, and ask what they can do now to make things better.
- In other words, they don’t beat themselves up when things don’t go the way that they think it should have.
- Take breaks to allow themselves to recharge.
- Know what they need to do to get themselves back to an internal balance.
- Consider what will be best for them while making decisions, while also considering the needs of the other people affected by the decision.
- Are better able to take care of other people, because they trust themselves to make sure their own needs are met too.
- This also helps them avoid burnout or compassion fatigue.
So you see, self-compassion allows you to do the things you want yourself to do. You can ask more of yourself when you know that your needs will be met. You can do more when you are well rested and your emotions are balanced. You can connect more deeply with people when your own hurts are soothed.
Self-compassion is a practice of caring for yourself. It could be the missing piece holding you back from living the good life. How can you bring a little more Care into your life?
- This is also a part of having a connection to ourselves, that I mentioned last week.
- This, by the way, is one major purpose of meditation. To become more aware of the thoughts that float through our brain, the fleeting nature of those thoughts, and the fact that often those thoughts are unconnected to the reality of the situation.