My partner and I started working full-time three months after our daughter was born. While we work, her grandmother and her nanny form a capable caregiving team. A couple of days ago, both of them fell sick and could not tend to her. We had to change our work plans to accommodate additional caregiving and cooking chores.
This situation would have elicited a response characterised by pragmatic course correction on the outside but also by guilt and fear within — the guilt of having to delegate or reschedule work at the last minute and fear of unforeseen consequences.
My self-compassion practice helped me respond differently and calm all the negative inner chatter. This post is about the three steps that have helped me become more accepting of reality and bring gentleness to my life.
Step 1: Accepting and acknowledging what is
The older me would quickly jump to a plan of action without creating space for my thoughts and feelings. Instead, I would squeeze work in the breaks I get from caregiving or multitask. Self-care would have taken a back seat.
Self-compassion has allowed me to create an inner space to surface, acknowledge and experience all the negative emotions and thoughts such a crisis brings me. For instance, I embrace the fear and guilt I feel. I listen to my thoughts, like “This makes some things less convenient for my already-busy team.” I feel the rush of blood in my body. I stay with all these thoughts, feelings and sensations until they no longer have a hold over me.
Step 2: Acknowledging our Shared Humanity
The older me would remember instances of people who stretch themselves and deliver regardless of constraints. After all, the idea of a hero, a warrior or a high-achiever has been deeply ingrained in our psyche. Seeing more people highlight stories after stories of taking charge and going above and beyond on social media does not make it any easier to let go.
Self-compassion reminds me
- I am not superhuman — no one is.
- All human beings experience adversities, limitations and setbacks
- There are so many causes and conditions — I cannot be 100% in control but only understand, accept and respond
- Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone can learn from them
When you examine these perspectives based on your and your friends’ stories, you recognise they are true. As you remind yourself regularly about your shared humanity, you feel liberated in moments of crisis. You take off the unnecessary pressure you put on yourself by seeing reality honestly. You free yourself of undue self-criticism or guilt, as well as needless self-pity, complacency, or self-indulgence.
In my situation, I see myself just like any other young parent and professional who wants to do their best but struggles juggling between priorities. Sometimes, one takes precedence over the other. It is okay — everyone has to prioritise different things at different times.
Step 3: Extending compassion and kindness to yourself
The older me would think about everything I could have or should have done. I would work on analysing and optimising my response.
My self-compassionate self learns better because there is no value judgment I attach to my experience. More importantly, I learn only after showing compassion and kindness to myself. The self-compassion meditation I do makes you place your hand on your heart and talk to yourself like you would to a friend.
Consequently, I tell myself things like:
- “Being there for your children is important, and there is no shame or guilt in prioritising their needs”.
- “Nothing will happen at work that cannot be done later or revised.”
- “You have a great team player in your partner. At least you are not alone.”
- “This is temporary and shall pass soon.”While I shared in the context of a recent personal experience, this approach is helpful in any moment where you experience unconstructive emotions. I have frequently used self-compassion in response to guilt, shame or dissatisfaction.
When we respond self-compassionately, we allow ourselves to remain on the path of healing. We do not add to the traumas we carry in our lives. As you practice compassion with yourself, you can extend it easily to others. Self-compassion is a choice. I invite you to consider this an alternative path in challenging times.
I learned about them by referring to Kirsten Neff’s incredible work and through Cognitively-Based Compassion Training. My team conducts workshops on self-compassion as well as Cognitively Based Compassion Training. If you want to explore them for your organisation, write to me.
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