Why You Must Practice Self-Compassion in Grief

October 11, 2018

Why You Must Practice Self-Compassion in Grief

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ― Louise L. Hay

Imagine that your friend calls, concern in her voice and clearly bothered by something. You prepare to listen to her troubles and hope that you can help her in some way. She begins to tell you about her struggles with grieving and feelings of overwhelm. She has been using positive coping techniques that have been recommended to her - counseling, writing, and joining a support group. However, she hasn't been seeing as much progress as she'd like and is feeling frustrated. Seeing the progress other people have made and noticing the seeming lack of her own has made her question her strength and cooping abilities, while other members in her support group seem to have no such issues. Then your friend asks you for advice.

What would you say to her? Would you use supportive, encouraging, and compassionate words to reassure your good friend? Most likely, yes, you certainly would.

Now, think back on when you were in her shoes and the times when you have been self-critical, frustrated, and generally unhappy with your grieving process. What was your self-talk like? Did you use word of encouragement and compassion or words of disappointment and criticism?

You would probably use words of support for your friend, but would you show yourself the same kindness? Are you and have you been open to positive self-talk? If your answer is anywhere in the vicinity of "no" you are not alone.

It can be difficult to trust the process, to give yourself time, and to acknowledge the tangled feelings and emotions that can make you feel even more out of balance. We are taught from an early age to be kind to others, but we're not often told that being kind to ourselves is just as important. Self-compassion is an important part of our self-care and is linked to better resilience, lowered levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and better well-being.

As Kristin D. Neff, prominent self-compassion author and researcher wrote, when we're "mindful of our suffering and respond with kindness, remembering that suffering is part of the shared human condition, we are able to cope with life’s struggles with greater ease." Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion isn't only there in good times, it's a tool to be learned and used every day.

Now you're probably wondering what self-compassion actually is and how you can use it. Read on!

You can imagine self-compassion as an umbrella made up of the following three parts, as defined by Kristin Neff.

  1. Self-kindness, which means being compassionate, understanding, and accepting toward yourself, as opposed to being self-critical and negative. Self-kindness doesn't mean that you let go of all responsibility and the mistakes you've made, instead it asks that you allow yourself to let go of shame and focus on acceptance.
    Unfortunately, you may find it hard to practice self-kindness if you feel that your criticism of yourself is what keeps you in line or accountable. However, this will only harm your self-confidence and potential.
    When grief steals so much of who you are and how you feel about yourself, causing harmful and negative thoughts that further undermine your well-being, you must be even more mindful of your self-criticism and the voice that likes speak loudly about your flaws.
  1. Common humanity is a concept that asks us to unite through the things that connect us and which doesn't deny our differences, but asks us to focus on what we have in common. Suffering is something we all experience. Personal failure, pain, and grief are part of the human experience. Even though we can never know exactly how others feel and experience something, we can understand their pain, because we've also experienced it.
  2. Mindfulness is a state where you can observe your negative thoughts and emotions with openness, without judgement. In a nutshell, mindfulness requires you to be aware of your present moment, experiencing life and your feelings as they are right now, not trying to deny or suppress them. Without being able to acknowledge and be present with your grief you won't be able to give yourself the time and understanding necessary to be self-compassionate.

Give yourself permission to practice self-compassion from exactly where you are.

And when you need a reminder to practice self-compassion, a reminder that you're loved, connected to a greater good, and that you're more than the sum of your thoughts and feelings wear one of our necklaces or bracelets - a beautiful touchstone to keep you grounded, connected, and inspired.

Remember, trials keep you strong, happiness keeps you sweet, faith keeps you going.

Have a wonderful day.

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