I bought myself Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, this week with the intention of reading it before year’s end and using its wisdom with my clients. Little did I realize how much I have to learn about being self-compassionate; this book may become a good tool for my clients, but for now, it is an excellent tool for me!
As caregivers, we’re no different than the rest of the world, we’re socially attuned to criticism and inclined to be even more harsh on ourselves when our actions fall short of our expectations. Magnify that common behavior by the fact that much of what we do is on behalf of someone else, and the caregiver’s opportunity for getting it wrong, making a mistake or screwing up feels even more burdensome. Not only did I mess up MY day, I messed up someone else’s day – I’m a terrible person!
For me, that self-criticism arises when I’ve become weary, raised my voice or lost my temper over the endlessly repeated questions that accompany dementia. It is tiresome to be repeatedly barraged with the same line of questioning over and over – yet that’s typically what a person with dementia presents to the caregiver. It is not something that can be managed or controlled, and it does wear the caregiver (me, in this case) down! But to be harsh on myself because I’ve become harsh towards my husband only makes the whole situation worse – and is the exact opposite of what Self-Compassion creates.
Neff offers this about Self-Compassion, “When we soothe our agitated minds with compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.” (p.13)
For me, seeing Self-Compassion as a self-care tool, a strategy for clearer vision about myself and the world around me, makes perfect sense. It offers me a great reason for learning how to be more self-compassionate; the pursuit of joy, which as any caregiver will admit, is not often something easy to identify in our lives. However, when JOY comes into view, life changes instantly, if only for that instant – it is amazing!
I invite you to explore the benefits of Self-Compassion and to recognize that it involves, “wanting health and wellbeing for oneself and leads to proactive behavior to better one’s situation rather than passivity.” (p.12) Most of us are inclined to wallow in self-pity (if only briefly) or bury ourselves in self-criticism, neither of which lead us to take meaningful action on our own behalf or to improve our lives in any meaningful way.
Self-Compassion is the antidote to those other choices and, as Neff explains, so much healthier than self-indulgence or narcissism (which have their own negative consequences). In fact, her research has brought her to realize that Self-Compassion is “the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem!” (p.8)
I’ll be reading this book in depth (with my highlighter in hand) over the next several weeks, so I expect there will be other messages from the book I’ll share with you in the days to come. Like self-care, Self-Compassion is neither selfish nor self-indulgent, it is completely a commitment to self-preservation, and a very healthy one to pursue!