My client looked at me, tears in her eyes. She’d finally admitted, in a soft whisper, that she was done. Past empty. Not just tired – way beyond that.
“What do I do now?” she murmured. “I’ve all these commitments – I love my family, my busy job travel, my mum, and other stuff. But I’m so tired. I’ve known for ages I’ve got too much going on, but haven’t a clue how to stop it, how to change it. I’ve lost my pzazz, my fire, my confidence. Is this all there is? ”
‘Mary’ (a pseudonym) isunable to sleep well. Low-level digestive problems cause ongoing pain and pressure. To her self-disgust, she sometimes finds herself snapping at her children and loving husband. Through it all, she’s devastatingly hard on herself, constantly feeling that whatever she does is simply not enough.
Even though her kindness to others shines bright, the idea of taking time to be kind to herself is a horror to her. She knew, intellectually, that her first step was to start being kind to herself. But she didn’t know how, or have the self-compassion skills to do that. So we set about our work. Time to change her perception of self-compassion.
Self-Compassion is NOT Selfish
Self-compassion gets a really bad rap. Compassion is understood as kindness, empathy, and a desire to help others. But self-compassion raises the hackles of being self-indulgent, weak, self-centred, narcissistic. This seems to be a throwback to our puritanical ancestors.
My experience with 15 years of clients shows that if we are not criticising and blaming ourselves for something, we believe we are selfish and egotistical.
But there’s some serious scientific research happening in places like Harvard. This research is giving us a growing body of literature which demonstrates categorically that self-compassion is not only central to mental health, but can be enhanced and embedded through learning and practice.
So we started with the Self-Compassion A-B-C. Due to space constraints, here’s the simplified version.
A = Awareness and Attention:
Allow yourself to become aware of, admit to and pay attention to your needs.
B = Be on your own Support Team
Behave as if you’re on your own team – have your own back covered.
C = Comfort
Learn how to comfort yourself. What simple, no-expense things can you do to comfort you?
Yes, it sounds simple. However, these are new habits and skills being developed – and like all new skills, it’s not always easy!
What Mary did Next
I asked Mary to write down the first three things that came to her mind as being her urgent self-care needs, in that moment. Given the space, time and encouragement to think of her own needs, she actually wrote down many more. We separated the list into different areas of her life, listing each urgent need under separate headings.
Next, I asked her to choose just two needs. Didn’t have to be the ‘perfect’ two. Just a starter, and write each one on a separate page in her Awareness Journal. Then we set about creating options as to how she could have just those two needs met. Some practical ideas, some crazy, some got tossed out. I could see her colour improving, could feel her energy strengthening as we worked.
And finally we created a set of simple, easy-to-achieve actions on just one of the ideas. Small steps. Checked on her willingness and commitment to carry out these actions. We’ve kept in touch by email since her session so I know that she’s carried out these actions, had a potentially challenging conversation safely with great results (we’d rehearsed); and she’s started flexing her confidence wings about having other needs met.
On a scale of 1 – 10 …. How’s your self-compassion? I invite you to do the exercise outlined above which Mary did.
I’d love your feedback and thoughts. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.trudyarthurs.com to subscribe for my regular free newsletter – you’ll receive a free Compassionate Confidence book. Looking forward to connecting with you, really soon.
To be placed on the Priority List for the new Compassionate Confidence programme (starting March 2016), simply email email@example.com, to let me know your interest.
© Dancing Leopards Ltd 2016
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