Monday, August 29, 2011

Self Compassion

Perhaps today, as I am taking my second set of measurements (they're down a little, but each time I get out the tape measure is a little harrowing), is a good day to talk about self compassion. From the study, "The Development & Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion" by Kristen D. Neff, self compassion is defined as 
"being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one's experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness rather than over-identifying with them."
There have been many recent news articles based on Neff's work, and if you're interested, you can read a few here, here, and here. What first piqued my interest for the subject of self compassion was its distinction from self esteem or self indulgence. Self compassion is just about treating yourself like you might treat somebody you care about greatly - a friend, a family member, a spouse. Often we put ourselves behind others, leaving us frazzled & overworked. 

yup, this is how I feel a lot of the time. Source
Learning to ease up on this behavior has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and one that I am still learning every day. I feel like many things are expected and needed from me on a daily basis, and when I'm recovering from surgery or feeling fatigued enough to sleep for 15-16 hours, those things aren't getting done. My house isn't clean, my productivity at work is down, my social life is non-existent. But who's the only person beating up on me during all of this? Me. I think we have a tendency to create tasks & projects, both at work & at home, that only we can do. I'm using the "we" here, not because I'm trying to impose my actions on you, but because this is something we as Americans do. We don't go on vacation, or even when we do, we've brought our laptops & cell phones with us to stay connected to work & other obligations. We can't let go and know that work/home really will go on without us there. 

This has described me in a big way, especially since moving into our current home about nineteen months ago. I took off work when my husband & roommate didn't, because I felt like I was the only one who could unpack/organize. They would both agree that I'm better at it, but I could've let them help. I could've let them help plan furniture layouts, put together IKEA furniture, and a million other tasks I'd convince myself that I alone was responsible for. After a lot of days filled with frustrations and weeping, my husband finally helped me let go a little bit. He's still helping me, because when I want to cry because the laundry isn't done and the front room that is always clean in case we have visitors isn't clean and all I can do is lay on the couch like a blob, he tells me it's okay. 

But self compassion doesn't just extend to one's daily tasks. Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks told Sheriff Harry Truman that he likes to do one thing to treat himself, every day. Cooper says
"Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of goodhot black coffee."

And doesn't this look like a man who knows how to take care of himself?
Often, when people in our lives say they've treated themselves to a new item of clothing, a dessert one day during lunch, or one drink too many, we brush off their concerns and say don't worry about it, of course you deserve it! But how often do we say that to ourselves vs. how often are you sitting there beating yourself up over that pair of shoes you bought? 

What puts self compassion in such a great middle ground is that you wouldn't be so supportive of a loved one if they were, say, eating cheesecake for lunch, spending all their rent money on video games or even books, and constantly running down their body and their finances. It's important to be honest with ourselves about where on the spectrum from self deprivation to self compassion to self indulgence our behavior lies, and try to make adjustments accordingly. For example, I could write another blog post - I've got lots topics on my immediate list - but instead I'm going to catch up on VMA coverage over at Go Fug Yourself. Because I'm compassionate like that. 

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