This week tested my self-compassion practices. Something happened to one of my children that resulted in her being injured and I felt responsible. I knew cognitively that accidents happen and that I wasn’t responsible. But that inner voice in my head kept saying, “I should have been able to do something to prevent this.” The perfectionism voice also joined in, “If you were really a good mom, this wouldn’t have happened.” Then the shame set in. I realized after 24 hours of this internal critical voice that I needed to deliberately practice some self-compassion, not to feel better but because I felt so bad that this had happened to my daughter. So I began to remind myself that I was not alone (common humanity) and there were mothers all over the world feeling helpless to prevent pain for their kids. I put my hand on my heart (self-kindness) and reminded myself in a loving voice tone in my head that she was going to be okay and that it was not my fault. And I spent time just feeling that sadness and pain about the situation (mindfulness). I felt the pain in my body and took a lot of deep breaths as I felt it. I can’t say that all the self-compassionate practice I did (and continue to do) made me feel better about the situation. But it did stop me from feeling worse and shaming myself for something that was out of my control. Self-compassion doesn’t make us feel better but it helps us to be in the vulnerability of painful emotions in a way that we can tolerate them and not add to them.
Mindfulness is the last of the attributes of self-compassion that Dr. Kristen Neff identified. Mindfulness is about not ignoring our pain – like the saying, “Pull yourself up by the boot straps and move on.” But it also means not over identifying with our pain – like saying, “I am anxious and I’m always going to be anxious.” Mindfulness is acknowledging the emotion we are feeling in the present moment in a balanced, non-judgmental way. “This hurts.” “I’m feeling sad right now.” See the video below for more information from Dr. Kristen Neff on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.
Mindfulness practice has been life-changing for me. It allows me to be more in the present moment and to acknowledge and hold space for the emotions I am feeling in that moment. It also allows me to notice when those emotions change in intensity and when new emotions, including the positive emotions, show up.
Weekly Action Step:
Practice naming your emotions this week. “Right now, I am feeling . . . .” Set your phone alarms and every time it goes off name what you are feeling.