Go Ahead, Help Yourself
Go Ahead, Help Yourself
by Andrea Dasilva, M.Ed., RCC
As mental health professionals, we strive to help – others, that is. We attentively and empathically listen, we encourage and support, we collaborate, we check-in – with others, that is. Even though we know we are not superhuman with a limitless supply of energy, it is not uncommon for many of us to soak up every last drop of our inner resources, in the service of helping others; which is not at all a bad thing – it is our chosen profession to help! One person often gets missed when the unconditional caring and support are distributed, though – YOU.
Being With Yourself
Passion is the Latin word for suffering; com means with; put together, it follows that compassion means “suffer with”. That seems like an apt description of what we do. Let’s add the word “self”: self compassion – to be with oneself during suffering. This might initially seem counterintuitive or nonsensical! Isn’t it enough to suffer in the first place?!
I consider self compassion an important topic for everyone to explore and incorporate in their self care regimen.
Kristen Neff, a leader and proponent of self compassion, postulates that self compassion is made up of three qualities: self kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
(1) Self Kindness
Although it may seem blatantly obvious when someone is experiencing unpleasant circumstances, acknowledging suffering is not an easy thing for a lot of people to do. Consider all the ways we have been conditioned to “tough it out” or to put on a “stiff upper lip”; allowing yourself to feel whichever emotion(s) are present in the moment with a sense of love and compassion might seem foreign and opposite to ingrained beliefs about how you “should” confront that which is bothersome. But is it? Part of being self compassionate is to bear witness to (rather than be the victim of) the suffering you experience. Think about how you would treat a friend or a client in distress, what you would say to him/her. Quite different from how you would treat or talk to yourself, isn’t it? Now recognize how you are and have been (and will be) there supporting yourself through thick and thin, 24/7.
Pretty awesome friend, eh? Inclined to give him/her a hug?
Go for it – doing so can activate the Care Circuit in the brain, which stimulates the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids – both of which have the effect of soothing negative emotions (Panksepp, 1998). Kind and supportive words can be comforting, too.
(2) Common Humanity
All humans go through tough times. A rhetorical statement, it may be, but recognizing the Common Humanity of suffering can serve as a reminder that you are not alone in your times of distress. Although the circumstance, magnitude, and/or specifics vary, the core experience is the same for everyone: suffering. Give yourself permission to comfort and be with yourself with tender love and care. No component of self compassion is passive or a form of resignation: accepting reality as it is does NOT equate with a “woe is me” (self pity) attitude; rather, you are recognizing and respecting that everyone is interconnected and shares all experiences. Contemplating the common humanity of suffering gives you access to a broader perspective from which to better comprehend that you are not isolated in this journey called life – no one is.
Seeing/feeling what is present, just as it is – no more, no less – without judgment; paying attention with a all six of your senses (including the mind) and being aware of your present moment, without judgment or aversion – this is Mindfulness. Your breath and body sensations can help you to remain grounded and focused – they are your anchors to the present moment. Closely feeling and following each in- and out-breath; can help you to reconnect when your mind wanders – and it will. That’s what minds do! No need to criticize or condemn yourself for this– consider these times as opportunities to practice coming back to this moment; opportunities to practice Mindfulness.
Benefits of Self Compassion
Practicing self compassion has been shown not only to boost feelings of happiness, resilience, and self worth, it actually decreases feelings of psychological distress. Rather than evaluating oneself/one’s performance on the basis of how good or special it is (self esteem), self compassion helps you to embrace all outcomes – “the good, the bad, and the ugly” (Kabat Zinn, 1991) with equal admiration; to respond to the hand life has dealt you rather than
reacting adversely to it. Physiological and immunological benefits have also been found in persons practicing self compassion; relationships can be enhanced; motivation and satisfaction levels can be heightened; and the list continues…
Self Compassion as Part of Your Self Care
So how about it: helping, encouraging, supporting, accepting, tending to – yourself as well as others. Ultimately, in showing yourself compassion, those around you receive the care and support cultivated in your practice as well. A win-win!
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Expressing genuine compassion for your suffering does not have to be complicated: simply taking a deep and Mindful (diaphragmatic) breath and placing your hand over your heart in a loving manner is sufficient to activate the “Care Circuit” in your brain. So whether it is between sessions, during your coffee break, between the reports you may be poring over, go ahead and help yourself with a little (or a lot of) self compassion!
Andrea Dasilva, M.Ed., RCC has been a Registered Clinical Counsellor with BCACC since 2012. She has worked with return-to-work teams at rehabilitation clinics and is currently in private practice with Summit Counselling Group Inc. (#1703 805 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC). Andrea’s practice is eclectic in orientation and commensurates with the uniqueness of client concerns and abilities.
Her areas of focus include counselling for disability and life transition issues, depression, stress/anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, pain management, addiction, and crisis management. She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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