I’ve spoken about self-compassion on the MS Mommy Blog before and what a positive impact it’s had for me as a personal coping tool. When I first read Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, Self- Compassion, I fell in love with the concept as a life philosophy. I recognized that self-compassion and chronic illness go hand-in-hand, and should be recommended by our healthcare professionals as part of our disease management regimen. It’s easy for us to get self-critical when trying to manage our illness that we don’t remember that part of our care should be loving ourselves no matter how “broken” we might feel.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is exactly what it sounds like: taking compassion (i.e. understanding and empathy) and turning it inward. Practicing compassion for ourselves is the first step of successfully being compassionate towards others. If we can love and care for ourselves, we are able to extend that love to others in our life.
Self-compassion is about forgiving ourselves even when we don’t need to: sometimes we take on responsibilities when it’s not warranted. I know I’ve mentally beat myself up over perceived missteps and learned to “forgive” myself so I could move forward mentally and emotionally.
As humans, we suffer. It might as well be the third absolute truth of life: death, taxes, and suffering.
So when we engage in compassion, we are recognizing the suffering and do what we can to help mitigate it for others. Sometimes helping others who are suffering dampens our own suffering, but the caretaker tends to be the one in most need of care.
Treat Ourselves as We’d Treat Others
There’s the golden rule we’re taught as children: treat others as you would want them to treat us. I think we forget that if we don’t’ treat ourselves well, how can we expect others to treat us well?
I know that if I don’t think very highly of myself, I prone to let others take advantage and bully me. I feel like I deserve it, even if it makes me angry and I lash out in response. Once I began to say to myself: “no, I don’t deserve this treatment,” I found that the negative relationships went away.
And I felt better about myself for it.
Meaningful life changes come when we acknowledge our own importance in the world, something that is hard to do if we’re conditioned to feel unimportant. When we treat ourselves well, we’ll be able to treat others well.
Tell yourself that you are worthy of your love and see how that alters your perspective.
Self-Compassion and Chronic Illness
So what does self-compassion have to do with chronic illness?
As I’ve previously mentioned in the blog, it’s easy to beat ourselves up and feel massive amounts of disappointment over something we cannot control: our health. Refocusing our anger and frustration to loving and caring for ourselves when we cannot control the situation is a better use of our emotional energy.
If your chronic illness is like mine, undue emotional stress, especially when controllable, leads to attacks. Rather than engaging in the behaviors that put me at risk for an attack, I reject the desire to blame myself and choose to love myself is a means of managing my disease.
An Invaluable Tool for Life
If you don’t have a chronic illness impacting your day-to-day life, engaging in self-compassion is a wonderful way to healthfully handle all that life throws at you. I have found that it’s a tool I wish I used more prior to my diagnosis. My overall satisfaction level with my life is up, which is something I could not say seven years ago.
Looking forward this month, the blog will discuss more in-depth the importance of self-compassion, ways to remember to use it, and reviewing the book Dr. Kristen Neff’s book that started me on this journey.
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