Self-compassion: A salve during tough times

This Covid-19 lockdown is tough. 

Have you had moments recently where it seems your best self is hiding in a cupboard? With the blurred boundary between your personal and professional life, are you finding it difficult to know when you've done enough work? Perhaps finding time to do any focused work is frustratingly elusive. There has been a mix of all of the above at my place, writes Sharon Longridge. 

While many of us can recognise some of the upsides of the lockdown - slowing down, meeting more neighbours and for the lucky people, exercising more - let's not gloss over the layered and widespread costs and hardships of this constrained reality.

How are you really coping?

The Covid-19 lockdown has triggered the 'trinity of stressors' for countless people around the world. That is a disconcerting mix of uncertainty and loss of control plus novelty (we've not done this before). Therefore it's understandable if you, your family or your team members are feeling a kaleidoscope of uncomfortable emotions right now.

Perhaps you are experiencing more of these emotions at the moment? 

  • Irritation
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Resentment
  • Judgement
  • Doubt 
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness

Disquieting emotions, like these, can signal that our deeper needs are not being met. They are internal alarm bells that invite us to lovingly explore where we may need more care and attention from, and for, ourselves. Feelings of sadness, anger or fear may be triggered from previous experiences of loss or restriction. For those people who have lost their jobs, it's possible that issues around identity and self-worth are surfacing. Most of us get considerable external validation and satisfaction from our professional lives. Suddenly losing that dimension can leave a deep chasm. 

Whatever is coming up, it's important that we give ourselves space and permission to recognise the feelings, fears and frustrations. We can most skilfully meet these scratchier aspects of self through the lens of compassion.

What is self-compassion?

According to Dr Kristin Neff, Co-Founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself,  "Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?"*

There are three core elements to self-compassion that we bring to bear when we are in pain:

  • Self-kindness: When we recognise that being imperfect and experiencing setbacks is inevitable.
  • Common humanity: Recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience. In other words, you are not alone.
  • Mindfulness: Adopting a non-judgmental mind state where one can observe thoughts and feelings, without trying to suppress or deny them.**

Practising self-compassion

For most people, developing self-compassion is a learned skill: it's not our default setting. For some folk, it's a radically new way of relating to self.  It starts with setting a clear intention to be kinder. Refraining from harsh self-criticism requires practice, including specific self-compassion and mindfulness techniques. As we develop our ability to observe our mental activity we can catch old thought patterns and intercept when we realise that the inner critic has commandeered our mindscape. With time and attention, we can cultivate kindness towards ourselves which has many proven benefits. Research shows that people with self-compassion are less likely to be anxious or depressed, which, in turn, leads to greater life satisfaction (Neff et al 2007) ***.  

Letter of self-compassion practice 

One of the techniques that we use is the Letter of Self-Compassion. Many of our clients have found this process to be surprisingly powerful and help them shift their perspective on the issues they are dealing with. I wrote one to myself recently to help me process the challenges I'm facing during the lockdown. Again, I was struck by how this deceptively simple process allowed me to sort through some complex emotions. 

Access our Letter of self-compassion template 

As an act of self-care, we encourage you to download our Letter of Self-Compassion template. Access it immediately by:

Self-compassion is a skill that anyone can learn. Why not start today and offer yourself a free, unlimited and precious resource to support you during this testing time? 

Sources

https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

** https://www.mindful.org/the-transformative-effects-of-mindful-self-compassion/ 

*** https://positivepsychology.com/self-compassion-research/

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