What Self-Compassion is Not
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Exploring our misgivings about self-compassion and unlocking our ability to practice it.
I've recently begun an intentional journey to become more self-compassionate. Through lots of therapy and internal excavation, I have come to realize that it's a key element to having loving and healthy relationships with myself and others. It's a bucket I just hadn't wanted to fill until recently, when I realized just how dang hard on myself I am, and how unkind I have been.
Motherhood in particular has made me very aware of a need to up my self-compassion game. I want to be a good example for all of my children and model healthy behavior in all areas of life as best as I can. Kristin Neff, the queen of self-compassion work says, "Self-compassion requires acknowledging that we are all imperfect." How can I do my best and also be soft with myself when I don't hit it quite right? How can I teach my children to do the same?
You'll hear more about this in my November newsletter, but I have been diving deep into Kristin Neff's Mindful Self-Compassion workbook and though it's been challenging, I am loving it. One section asks us to examine common misgivings about self-compassion. Here are mine!
Misgiving #1 - Self-compassion is weakness
One of the things I noticed after Leo died was how obsessed our culture is with "strength." Person after person told me how strong I was and how amazing and inspiring it was. What I know now is that though it looked like strength on the outside, it was numbness. I wasn't feeling much of anything those first several weeks and months because my body just wasn't ready to process.
And yet, I felt like I had to keep up this facade of strength. Lately, I have been reflecting on how the only person who really saw the depth of my pain was Blake. Friends and family have no clue what the aftermath of Leo's death really looked like for me. There were lots of times I couldn't eat or get up off the couch. There were the times when I wailed loudly, yelled at the Universe, sounded like an unrecognizable animal. There were times I just sat motionless for what felt like hours in his nursery rocker.
Nobody knows about that because I was fitting into the mold of what society deems strong. So I didn't let people see, because I didn't want to be seen as weak.
Self-compassion would be letting that side show, knowing that it's real and honest and there's nothing wrong with letting people in and showing them the softer side of you or the side that's in intense pain.
Misgiving #2 - Self-compassion is permission to fall back into bad habits
Listen, I know it will sound messed up, but I have regularly thought to myself, "if you are kind to yourself about xyz... you will become complacent and do things that you shouldn't."
What are these things, you ask? Anything that might be considered unkind behavior or laziness (more on that later). A good example of this might be healthy eating, which is obviously something we could unpack for days.
Say I have been on a really clean eating kick, but then I have a week or so where I just can't make the nutrition stuff happen. I'm stressed and eating what feels good or is easy in the moment.
I'm a big believer in enjoying food, healthy or not, and love me a good indulgent meal. But when I become unkind to myself is when I am on a streak where I'm just not fueling my body well. What I should do is say, "Ok self, what the heck is going on? What do you need that you aren't getting? How can we get you that? How can we relieve stress so you feel more capable of preparing healthy meals?"
What I do instead is flagellate myself with things like "Wow, you're setting a bad example for Beau. You feel like shit and it makes sense because you're doing this to yourself, you deserve to feel like shit because you aren't trying hard enough. You need to fix this before it's too late. If you don't stop this cycle now, you might not ever stop and xyz bad thing could happen as a result"
See what I did there? Do as I say, not as I do.
Misgiving #3 - Self-compassion is laziness
This one is a little simpler but just as toxic. Usually, instead of allowing myself to rest I push myself to do all of the things and never take a break. Any clues on where this leads me? You guessed it, burnout.
Not only do I do this to myself for big things like work projects, but it also includes small things like getting the laundry done. Really, nobody will die if I fold the laundry tomorrow instead of today, but I tell myself that if I don't push myself to do it now, it will never get done!
"Self-compassion requires acknowledging that we are all imperfect." – Kristin Neff
Misgiving #4 - Self-compassion prevents success
This one is very tied to the laziness misgiving. My brain tells me laziness prevents success. Which I am sure it likely contributes, but true laziness is not anywhere near what I am like. And even then laziness is perfectly helpful at times.
How this manifests for me is pushing and pushing and pushing, feeling like I need to be achieving incredible and really monumental results in short amounts of time. This is absolutely not possible. A mentor of mine recently pointed out to me that the nature of our work is culture change, which is extremely difficult to accomplish. Instead of pushing myself to knock out big milestones quickly, she asked me to consider shifting to thinking about the small wins and I can't tell you how helpful that advice was.
Now, when I wake up in the morning and get ready for work, I think about what the small wins of the day are and it makes life feel a lot more manageable.
The truth is, self-compassion is a necessary part of getting through this wild and precious life
There is nothing wrong with you if you take time to give yourself what you need. In fact, it will help you feel better, strengthen your relationships, and even reduce some pesky physiological symptoms. Will you go on this journey with me?