We try one thing, it doesn’t work. We try something else, still no luck. The third or fourth try might get results. Meanwhile, precious developmental milestones fly by. How frustrating!
It’s easy to get discouraged and be hard on ourselves as we go through this process. Of course we want our kids to function well in this world. We can blame ourselves when it doesn’t happen the way we think it should:
“Why did I let her eat cotton candy that led to a public meltdown?” “I’ve let him play video games and he’s done nothing else all day. What a slacker parent I am!” “Why didn’t I put him in that social skills program years ago??” On it goes.
If all this negative self-talk becomes habitual, feelings of guilt and shame can also become a habit. These negative feelings put our brains and our nervous systems on high alert—a state of fight or flight; freeze or submit. Psychologists say that if we are in a state of high alert often enough, we are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and general unhappiness. (Leaviss_Uttley_2018)
Practicing Self-Compassion Builds Emotional Resilience
Practicing mindful self-compassion can halt this downward spiral! It can soothe our fight-flight-freeze or submit response. The simple techniques of mindful self-compassion prove to interrupt harsh self-criticism and help promote feelings of well-being.
Here is a Quick Self-Compassion Meditation for Caregivers
This meditation was adapted from Kristin Neff’s “Meditation for Caregivers.”
Fold your arms over your chest. Give yourself a gentle, inconspicuous hug. Or put your hands over your heart if that’s more comfortable.
Say to yourself:
1- “This is a point of suffering (or sadness, confusion, anger, etc.) at this moment.”
2- “I did not cause my child’s suffering. I cannot completely solve my child’s problems. However, I will try to help the best I can.”
3. “I am not alone. Many caregivers experience difficulties like mine.”
4- “May I be gentle and kind with myself right now.”
This exercise can take less than a minute! It’s part of the increasingly popular Mindful Self-Compassion Training program (MSCT) created by leading psychologists Kristin Neff and Chris Germer.
Self-kindness and warmth can lead to self-encouragement and replace self-blame. It does not mean that we don’t take responsibility for our actions. Just the opposite. If we look at ourselves with a kind eye, we can become more objective.
If you’re concerned that self-compassion is molly-coddling, or an excuse to stop challenging yourself, clinical evidence shows the opposite: Beating ourselves down with harsh self-criticism leads to shame and self-judgment. We are more likely to give up. When we understand our self-criticism as a self-protective measure against feelings of rejection, we can show kindness to the self-criticism. This kindness can allow us to persist rather than give up. (Neff, 2011)
What is Mindful Self-Compassion Training?
Many therapies like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have exercises that promote self-compassion.
Mindful self-compassion training is unique because it’s main focus is to teach us how to access feelings of kindness and direct it towards ourselves.
MSC-T specifically “trains people to generate feelings of compassion and warmth when they feel threatened, angry, or disgusted with themselves or others.” (Gilbert and Procter).
Mindful Self-Compassion Training is offered in 8-week courses
Each class is about 1 1/2 hours. First, we learn basic mindfulness taught in MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) which helps us bring caring awareness to difficult experiences. From there, we develop loving awareness of ourselves and our strengths and limitations through focused exercises.
They offer user-friendly ways to increase our ability to face challenges with calm and self-care instead of self-blame and self-criticism.
It offers simple meditations that can be used just about anywhere.
To find out more about Mindful Self-Compassion Training, visit Kristin Neff’s and Chris Germer’s Center for Mindful Self Compassion at https://centerformsc.org and the Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute at https://cih.ucsd.edu/mbpti
Links and references:
Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy: An Early Systematic Review. Psychological Medicine, 45(5), 927-945. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714002141
Lucre, K.M., & Corten, N. (2013). An Exploration of Group Compassion-Focused Therapy for Personality Disorder. Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 86(4), 387–400. https://DOI-org.scroll.lib.westfield.ma.edu/10.1111/j.2044-8341.2012.02068.x
Neff, K. (2015). Self-Compassion HarperCollins. Kindle Editio