Self-Compassion (Episode 66)

Join host Kay Coughlin in this episode to learn what self-compassion really is and how it can change your life for the better. If you think self-compassion is a practice that will make you weak and passive, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. As always, there’s no guilt and no judgment here!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Self-compassion (episode 66)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me who want to get some rest and feel less lonely. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself so that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do also. And if we can do it, I know you can, too.

This is episode 66.

Today, I’m going to be talking about self-compassion and what it can mean for those of us who have caregiver responsibilities.  I woke up today feeling really discouraged and quite inadequate, and I’m…  Honestly, everything today has been pretty hard. And in a way, I think that makes this the perfect day for me to record this episode because in the past, I would have spent so much time being critical of myself.

Gosh, it’s actually a little hard to talk about it right now, because when I say that I’m critical of myself, it’s actually hard to describe the pain that I feel, that I’ve caused myself over the years. You know, I’m 48 now. And I think it would be fair to say that I spent the first maybe 45 years of my life, mainly just being critical of myself.

And I’m actually getting a little bit choked up, even talking about that. So I just, I want you to know that I really understand what it’s like to only know self-criticism.

But also on the flip side of this, at this point in time, I do have a few self-compassion and self-care practices that keep me from being so hard on myself all the time.

And it turns out that self-compassion is actually what I think of as the antidote to self criticism. So what that looks like for me is now I can do very difficult things and scary things. Things like offering my brand new prioritize you program. Doing new things is scary. It’s just scary.

And you know, now also offering another brand new program and that’s my monthly membership for family caregivers. And I’m just going against all the conventional wisdom and I’m doing it my own way and, and trying to provide something in the way that I think family caregivers are going to need it. But, you know, I’m only going to be charging $29 a month for that entire membership. And it also, you know, it’s a community built on compassion. And there’s going to be a weekly group coaching call.

And there are some people I know who are giving me a very hard time about offering my best programs at such, I mean, what I think of such affordable prices. And my tendency is for all of this to be kind of paralyzing for me. I just criticize myself so much and I’m so afraid of failing. But now that I have self-compassion as a practice, I can see that self-criticism and I can say to myself, oh, right. Okay. That’s something that I do. That’s a very human thing to do, is to criticize myself and it’s okay. And nothing has gone wrong and, and I can take action anyway.

So that’s the difference self-compassion has made for me.

But I know that by talking about self-compassion, that could feel to you like maybe there’s a little bit of blame in there. Like maybe I’m accusing you of not being compassionate with yourself already. Like maybe it’s something you should have already figured out and there’s something wrong with you because you can’t do it yet.

I understand that, because that is what I used to feel about self-compassion too. I thought that I was way too behind to just start now or start anytime I wanted, I felt like I had really missed the boat and there was just no hope for me. So if you feel like that, too, I just want to acknowledge that. That’s totally okay.

And also it couldn’t be farther from the truth. You can just pick up and dive in wherever you are right now, because self-compassion is not something that you ever have to run away from or think that you can’t do, or that there’s going to be something that keeps you from being able to practice it. That’s just not how self-compassion works.

But the thing is nobody ever taught us about self-compassion as a process or a practice. And we tell ourselves all of these stories about all the reasons that we really cannot learn to be compassionate, at least not compassionate with ourselves. It’s like, maybe self-compassion is good for everybody else and we can see that, but there’s just no way that it can be good for us or that we can use it in our lives.

Now I have to take a minute here and tie this misunderstanding about self-compassion right back to this ancient set of beliefs that we now know as Human Giver Syndrome. And I’ve done a whole bunch of podcast episodes on this. So you can look back if you really want to learn more about the actual definition of Human Giver Syndrome, or at least the way I define it.

But, you know, when we’ve been taught for our entire lives, that everybody else really ought to come first and ahead of us. And that we, because we have family caregiver responsibilities that we should be ashamed of ourselves for thinking about our own needs when the people we care for need us first. Look, here’s the thing. Of course, we are going to think that self compassion can’t possibly be for us.

So just to erase any confusion you might be having about what self-compassion is or where I’m coming from on this, let me give you my informal definition of self-compassion. So you know exactly what my thinking is on this term and on this practice.

And that’s what self-compassion is. It’s a practice. It’s something you do. And it’s a skill set you can learn. And I think that’s a really, really good thing to understand because you can learn to do it. And it is the act of expressing loving kindness towards your own self. Just the way you would do it for a friend.

We are living in a society that is really just too happy to let us take, unfortunately, all of the blame and shame and responsibility for everything our people do and don’t do. And that’s Human Giver Syndrome. That actually makes a lot of our systems work better is this fact that we are willing to take on that kind of huge burden and that huge responsibility that isn’t ours to bear.

So since that’s the society that we’re in, we have to be really proactive about creating this loving kindness for ourselves, and we have to do it so that we don’t keep getting sucked into this weird narrative of what it’s supposed to look like to be a family caregiver. And I’m including parents in this, and it’s this weird narrative of complete self-sacrifice, no matter what the cost is to you.

So self-compassion is going to be the antidote to all of that. I know that the people around you might not actually encourage you to practice self-compassion. And in fact, they might tell you to take better care of yourself, but then they might behave in ways that make it so much more difficult for you to try to do that.

Whether or not they’re doing it on purpose, the people around you might not be setting you up to succeed when it comes to self-compassion. You just might not be in an environment that’s going to make that easy for you to do or to start practicing. But the good news here is that you do not have to rely on anybody else to give you permission to practice self-compassion. You can learn and do it all on your own.

Now, if you want a whole toolkit of self-compassion exercises that you can do on your own, whenever you’ve got time to do it. One really great resource that I know of and can recommend is called the Center for MSC or Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. And that’s at CenterForMSC dot org. It’s all the work of Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff. And there’s a link to it in the show notes. I’ll put that link there.

Another misunderstanding that we have about self-compassion is we think that it means that you have to be sort of inwardly peaceful and sweet-tempered before you can even consider it as a practice or that you have to want to be peaceful and sweet. I made the mistake of thinking that for a long time.

And I have to tell you, I just want to admit right now that the people who know me very well will absolutely confirm that I don’t come across as somebody who is particularly peaceful. And I’m definitely not sweet-tempered. I have a little bit more of a fiery personality than that. And so I actually think that I thought that self-compassion couldn’t possibly be something I could practice.

And I know that it keeps a lot of us from exploring self-compassion when we think that it’s, that it’s for suckers or for losers or for weaklings. We have this kind of widespread thinking that people who practice self-compassion let themselves get lazy and not take any action. But that is not true.

The way this works is that the practice of gentle and thoughtful self-compassion actually allows us to unlock and, I guess, tap into the other side of self-compassion, which is our assertive self-compassion. So you’ve got the gentle, thoughtful self-compassion and then you’ve got the assertive self-compassion.

And that second kind is the kind of self-compassion that we need when we want to take action. And when we need courage and conviction and motivation, there’s actually a pretty big body of research that shows how self-compassion really does help people take action. And it does not make us lazy or unmotivated at all. It’s the exact opposite.

There’s a great beauty, I think in self-compassion and it’s this: self-compassion means, it means we get to approach everything in life as an “and” instead of an “or.” So we get to combine things in unusual ways instead of thinking, things can only be one thing or the other.

So here’s what that looks like. I can be thoughtfully self-compassionate with myself and assertively self-compassionate about getting my needs met. For most of my life, because I was a person who saw things as either one thing or the other, some things were good. Some things were bad, and that was just my habit. I never could have allowed myself to se those two seemingly competing things at the same time.

But now, because I have taught myself to be more compassionate and to slow down, I am much more thoughtful about jumping to conclusions and judging. And I’m always looking for the ways that two things can be happening at the same time for me. And I don’t feel like anymore that I have to try to prove that one or the other is wrong or bad.

You know, like today, you know, I’m having a tough day. And I really saw that as an opportunity to record this podcast episode, because it means that I can be honest and maybe I can even be a little bit raw and I can, I can show up in a way that’s probably actually more helpful to you. And I know it’s already been more helpful to me.

And one of the ways that this all shows up in my work is that I have learned that I never tell anybody to let something go. I mean, I wrote about this in my book, but I don’t think that’s the way we work as humans. I think there’s a kind of violence behind trying to force ourselves to let something go. So what I do instead is I encourage people to kind of gently explore the possibility of being at peace with whatever it is that’s holding them back or that they’re really stuck on. Whether it’s, you know, grief or anger at a situation or shame about something.

We really have an opportunity to look at that and over time, say, how can I really accept this? How can I be at peace with that so that it doesn’t hold me back anymore?

And this is similar to a term that we use in the world of self-awareness called holding something lightly. Instead of gripping it really hard with your mind and your heart, you’re able to kind of loosen your grip and be a lot more gentle with yourself.

Now, eventually in this search for peace, I do find that sometimes people are able to release something. Or sometimes they’ll look up one day and realize that whatever it is they were holding onto is gone. But that is not the same energy at all as forcibly letting something go or forcing yourself to let something go.

Another misconception that we have about self-compassion is that it’s indulgent, and they are not the same thing at all. When I think of something that’s indulgent is that’s when you get stuck in something or use it to buffer from having to feel things or take action on something.

And I think one of the most fun ways to think about indulgence these days is bingeing on Netflix series. That can easily become indulgent. I mean, Netflix itself is just a streaming service so that we can watch movies and television programs and whatnot. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with Netflix, but it can become indulgent. And, you know, you could say that about anything. We, we tend to think of as indulgent chocolate or coffee or donuts, you know, anything like that could be indulging.

Self-compassion, though, is about having awareness and gently examining and kind of taking a look from different angles to see why things have happened and look at how you feel. And it’s about allowing yourself the freedom to try things and to take action without having to worry about being perfect. It is not indulgent at all.

When you have self-compassion you get this ability to really acknowledge your own needs and your own wants without shaming or blaming or guilting or judging yourself. This is incredible for me. This has been so freeing. It’s actually a kind of freedom that I never would have thought could be possible for me. The kind of freedom to be having a bad day, and still be deeply compassionate with myself and feel this beautiful compassion for anybody who listens to this recording. I can do those two things at the same time. And it’s because of self-compassion.

Now I do use a daily practice that has self-compassion built right into it, and I recommend it to all of my clients. It’s called doing a Thought Download. And if you’d like a free guide on how to do it, you can actually find it over in my Boundaries Community. And I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, where you can find that it’s in the library area.

But basically a Thought Download is a really specific kind of journaling or writing down what’s in your head. And it encourages you to get the weight of your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper instead. And so you’re not carrying around that burden in your mind anymore. And then you look back at it and you review them without judging yourself for it. And without guilt for what you wrote down.

But when you’re reviewing it, if judgment does come up, because that is going to happen, it happens to me. And I’ve done this as a daily practice for a long time. Well, when that judgment comes up, because of self-compassion, you can then examine it and not be crushed by it. Or if you are crushed by it, you can look at it and say, oh, that’s right, this happens to me sometimes.

So now for me, when I feel really difficult emotions, like the ones I woke up with this morning, feeling inadequate and discouraged. I now have self-compassion and I have these go-to self-care practices, like my Thought Downloads, and I have a few others to help me handle these difficult emotions.

I did my Thought Download this morning and when I read back through it, I said things to myself that were very compassionate. And the things that I said to myself were, oh, okay, nothing has gone wrong here. These are things that I’m feeling right now. And everybody else feels these things too. I’m okay. Nothing has gone wrong with me. I’ve got things I can still do today, even though I’m feeling these really hard things right now.

That’s what self-compassion sounds like to me. And that’s why it’s freeing because I just don’t have to pretend anymore like I don’t have these challenging emotions or challenging days. I get to feel these hard things and accept myself and give love to myself and I can still take action. In fact, I’m more likely to take action. I get to live my life from this place of, where more than one thing can be true and right for me at the same time, instead of, or where only one thing can be okay at a time.

And this has made a difference for me every minute of every day for at least the last couple of years. So, if you want to explore more about self-compassion with me, and if you want to use it to begin taking good care of yourself by being gentle and taking self-compassionate action, including setting boundaries when you need to. 

But however you are feeling today, whatever is going on in your life. I want you to remember that self-criticism is not your only option. Self-compassion is a really amazing practice to begin, and you can start any time, right where you are. You can learn to be a good friend to yourself. You can learn to show yourself loving kindness, and thoughtful gentleness. And that is also going to allow you to tap into the assertive side of self-compassion so that you can take action and take good care of yourself.

As people with caregiver responsibilities, bringing self-compassion into our lives could be one of the most important things that you and I will ever do for our own wellbeing.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers, and that includes parents, who want to get some rest and feel less lonely. It’s the place for emotionally safe community, brave self-development and self-compassion. You’ll find the link to it in the show notes and over in my Boundaries Community. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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