Shannon McLain, MS, is a doctoral student in the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences. She recently led a workshop for members of the community at The Healing Space, in Houston Texas, focusing on self-care and self-compassion. Here she blogs about her the importance of self-compassion, and some initial self-care practices to build self-compassion.
Most of us feel compassion when a close friend is struggling. What would it be like to receive the same caring attention whenever you needed it most? All that’s required is a shift in the direction of our attention—recognizing that as a human being, you, too, are a worthy recipient of compassion.
Self-compassion is absolutely essential for a balanced and healthy lifestyle. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it, we are vulnerable to the opinion of others and find it difficult to deal with letting go of our mistakes. It’s tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding with ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry or self-critical when life falls short of their set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration, and self-criticism. When reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This stems from the willingness to observe negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive state of mind in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. Here’s a quick and helpful tool for engaging mindfulness and self-compassion in your daily life:
S—Stop, take a pause
T—Take a deep breath and relax (for a minimum of three breath cycles)
O—Observe the present moment: What do I notice? Where is my breath? How does my body feel? What am I saying in my mind? What is one way I can respond to myself with compassion and kindness?
P—Proceed. Where was my attention before S.T.O.P? Do I want to continue or attend to something else?
Tune in next time for some helpful tips for creating (or enhancing) a grateful and thankful attitude, in the next installment in Shannon McLain’s Healing Practices Series, on Gratitude.