(Please note, I include various links and resources in my blogs. This is purely to provide education and resources to patients and families. I do not get any financial benefits from these resources.)
I thought this topic would be appropriate for my first blog post given that I cannot stop talking about it – with friends, with family, with clients. Earlier this year, I had the privilege (and made the effort) of taking a Compassion Cultivation Training course through Stanford (http://ccare.stanford.edu/education/about-compassion-cultivation-training-cct/). Happily in a profession in which I am utilizing compassion toward others every day for most of the day, I was concerned that there was potential for compassion burnout. While I entered the class hoping to learn how to stay compassionate throughout my future years as a child psychiatrist, what struck me most was the concept of self-compassion (http://self-compassion.org/). Self-compassion, as described by Dr. Kristin Neff, involves three components: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. First, we must first be aware of our pain and suffering in order to address it compassionately. That sounds simple but is not so easy. Many of us, including myself at times, distract ourselves from this suffering sometimes because we worry that we would not be able to do what we need to do or to be happy if we acknowledge and/or address it. Interestingly, this is not the case. Even just acknowledging our suffering can cause some relief. In class, we practiced writing a self-compassionate letter (http://self-compassion.org/exercise-3-exploring-self-compassion-writing/) and even just this exercise of writing down and acknowledging my suffering caused significant immediate relief for me. Next, common humanity is acknowledging that many others are suffering in the same way. This element is tricky because it can lead to invalidation (ie. Other people are going through this, so why am I making such a big deal). However, I like to think of it as the fact that all people have imperfections and are vulnerable and that is part of being human. Acknowledging this fact makes it much easier to do the final part – self-kindness. This final part is what I get most excited to teach my clients. Living in the Bay Area, I am surrounded by over-achievers – myself, my friends, my colleagues, my patients, their parents, etc. A lot of us have gained success using various tools. One tool some, including myself, have used, is bullying yourself. By telling ourselves we should do better and be better, we may imagine that we are pushing ourselves forward and helping ourselves achieve difficult accomplishments. In fact, while at times this may lead to the desired behaviors, it takes a large toll on our wellness. Self-kindness involves talking to yourself like your mentor or friend would talk to you — in a warm, encouraging manner. I think of it as holding my hold hand and gently guiding myself forward. This actually works! If you imagine that you did poorly on an exam and came home and your parents said, “Well, of course you did badly. You are stupid and useless. You will amount to nothing.” Does this encourage or discourage you? What if, instead, they said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the grade you wanted. You studied really hard and stayed up late to review everything. I know you can do better and I bet you will next time. Maybe let’s look at your schedule and see how we can make more time so you won’t have to cram the night before and can get a good night’s sleep.” Sounds a little more encouraging? I find that my teenage clients are often harder on themselves than their parents are. I have been working on self-kindness myself and it does make a big difference. It encourages me and helps me move forward and I am a happier person ever since I have begun practicing it. Remember, this is a practice. If we forget to do it or slip up, in the spirit of self-compassion, tell yourself, “It’s ok, you can and will do better next time.” At the very least, treat yourself just as kindly as you would treat a friend. Whatever your motivation may be for self compassion (happiness, success, physical wellness, focus, decreased anxiety, closer relationships), use this motivation to keep working on it. If you are feeling skeptical about self-compassion, which is totally fine and expected, at least take a look at this article about myths related to self-compassion: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion. If you are interested in learning more, you can also read Kristin Neff’s book: Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.