Author and professor Kristin Neff writes about an important aspect caregivers must incorporate into their lives in order to stay healthy and at the top of their caregiving game: self-compassion.
“Self-compassion is crucial for caregivers — not only because it helps us forgive ourselves for our inevitable mistakes — but also because it allows us to acknowledge and comfort ourselves for the challenges of our caregiving role."
Caregivers are natural givers – they frequently show an abundance of compassion to others, particularly to the ones they are caring for. But on the flip side, caregivers oftentimes have difficulty showing that same amount of compassion and understanding to themselves.
What exactly is self-compassion, and how can it be practiced? “I define self-compassion as having three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness,” writes Kristen. Examples include: being caring and understanding with oneself instead of critical and harsh (self-kindness); recognizing that all humans make errors, including yourself (common humanity); and being aware of one’s painful feelings to help maintain a balance about one’s disliked qualities or situation (mindfulness).
Kristin says that many caregivers and those in similar positions often don’t engage in self-compassion for fear that it will lead to self-indulgence and passivity – two big negatives in a caregiver’s world. But research has shown this does not actually happen:
“Because self-compassion involves the desire to alleviate suffering, it actually encourages growth and motivation."
When it comes to practicing self-compassion, Kristin also has experience because she is a mother of an autistic child. “When my son screamed and screamed because his nervous system was being overloaded and I couldn’t figure out the cause,” she shares, “I would soothe myself with kindness.”
Self-compassion might not be something a caregiver can just jump into and begin practicing daily because self care – even though caregivers are fully aware of its importance – is often put on the back burner. But the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or incompetent as a caregiver, try not to be harsh with yourself. Instead, try practicing self-compassion. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations, it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind,” writes Kristin.
Share this post with a caregiver to promote the importance of self-compassion.