Being Gentle With Yourself (Episode 78)
In this episode, your host Kay Coughlin talks about ways she is being gentle with herself. Even when our culture seems to be pushing in the opposite direction. Kay gets pretty honest here, in the hopes that something she admits will help you be more gentle with yourself, too.
As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!
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Transcript of episode is below.
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Do you need to find a way to get some rest and take control of your own life again? You can, even if you believe that you can't possibly take care of yourself when the people around you need you so much!
Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you are 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 alone. 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. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.
This is episode 78.
It’s funny about this episode. I was really excited when I sat down to work on the outline for it initially, but, you know, as I started to work on it, I realized it was pretty hard for me. And that seems like some kind of great irony because what I’m talking about today is being gentle with yourself.
Or actually what I’m talking about is me being gentle with myself. I think this was hard because being gentle with myself is pretty much the complete opposite of how I lived my life up until just a couple of years ago. This is odd because I, I have always understood the need to be gentle with yourself.
I think that’s a good rule of thumb for humans. I think it’s a good thing for people to remind one another of. I think it’s a good thing to try to get to in your own life. But somehow being gentle with yourself, I guess I just thought that it never applied to me, or maybe I thought that it couldn’t apply to me that my life. My circumstances somehow made me exempt from being gentle.
As I say, I have a weird relationship with this idea of being gentle with myself. I was just never encouraged to do it particularly. I’ve always been very independent. And my parents encouraged that in part because it really is how I made, but also because I know it made their life easier. There were four kids in my family growing up. And so if there was one of us that really didn’t need a lot of attention, that was just fine. They were very loving and they did pay attention to me. But I think that I felt the need to somehow not inconvenience them with, with everything that I needed as a kid.
So yes, I have a very odd relationship with this. And I can remember this time that I got in trouble with a teacher when I was seven years old. That was second grade for me. I even remember who my teacher was. I remember what she looked like. And I got in trouble for trying to avoid being outside for recess. I don’t actually remember what got into my head, why it was that I didn’t want to be outside, but somehow my teacher noticed what I was doing and I did get in trouble.
I got yelled at about it. I remember working myself up over it and I was, I was really in a state over it. And I carried around the shame and I made myself feel guilty about getting in trouble for years. And I can still remember that now. I can remember that feeling, how punishing I was toward myself. And I can still remember how devastated I was that I had messed up.
And it’s not even my earliest memory like that either. I can remember being punishing on myself for gosh, even breathing, I guess, from the time that I was really, really tiny. I do know that for me, a lot of this comes from being a perfectionist.
I’ve always related very closely with being a perfectionist. So if that’s something you can identify with, I just want you to know, I see you. So I have a lot of clients who can relate to being a perfectionist. And I have a lot of clients who approach life in much the same way that I do, but they’re coming from a place more of being a people pleaser. So neither of these things are wrong. They’re just how some of us are wired.
And of course they’re not the only reasons that we can be hard on ourselves, but they are the two reasons that come up the most often in my own practice and in my own life.
But now I am in a season of my life where I’m finding that I just have to be exceptionally gentle with myself. And I mean that in terms of getting physical rest and mental rest, I just can’t push myself as hard as I’ve always done. And I’m sure that part of that is that I have always pushed myself very, very hard. I thought it was what I was supposed to do.
One of the things that’s changed now, it’s not just that I can’t do that anymore, but I don’t want to do that anymore either.
So gosh, if I had to make a list of all the ways that I’ve been hard on myself, instead of being gentle on myself, that would be a really long list. I’d have to put on there my career, my weight, my fitness, the way I eat. My relationships, the way I volunteer, my spiritual life. As I say, I’ve pretty much always been the opposite of gentle with myself.
And I think there are some other words that I could use. I could say that I’ve been punishing. Another word I could use would be unrelenting or relentless. And I could also say about myself, unforgiving. Those things are all true.
Anyway, after a lifetime of all of that, of being so hard on myself, it’s just not working for me anymore. My mind is rejecting that. I don’t know why. I don’t know, really know why this is going on now, but I can tell that my mind is just not going to let me do that anymore.
And this is all going on in my mind. And it’s about my mindset and it’s about the way I act towards myself. The way I behave about me. We all have these – I have a lifetime of behavior habits and thinking patterns. And what I don’t have is the habit of treating myself with love and compassion at all.
So I set out to. I guess ultimately what I want to do is change this for myself, but right now, what I have to do is just learn how to be gentle. I have to teach myself how to be gentle with myself because honestly my mind could not take the pressure anymore.
And it’s been draining me physically, too. What I am not trying to do with this episode is tell you what to do. What I’m doing here by recording this is I just want to let you know that I have defined what being gentle means for me, at least for right now. And this is probably different for you. And I want you to know that’s totally okay. That’s totally human.
Here’s my list. It’s 14 things that I’m doing so that I can teach myself to be more gentle with myself and less hard on myself. And I really just hope that this is a starting place for you, whether or not you actually need to make your own list, like I did here. If you are as hard on yourself or even half as hard on yourself as I’ve always been, I hope this just helps you get started with being gentle with yourself.
The first one on my list is noticing when I’m being hard on myself. And instead of trying to change it for right now, I’m learning to give myself tenderness about the things I notice. Now I have to put this first on my list above everything else, because everything else you’re going to hear about today can only happen if I’m noticing it first.
And what I mean by this is if I’m noticing it instead of ignoring it or just doing it out of habit or pretending like I’m not doing it pretending like I can’t see it.
Now, when I work with my clients, I talk about my three-step process to being able to eventually change anything you want. And that is step one, notice or observe. That’s what I’m talking about here.
Step two, then, is to process or sit with or live with the things you’ve noticed. And then step three is to decide what you really want, so you can act from that place of what you really want.
But it’s step one that’s what I need to do right now to be truly gentle with myself. And then I just have to stop right here with the noticing.
You know, sometimes I’m going very lightly into step two into the processing, but I’m not forcing myself to go there. I’m not making it happen. And I might not go there.
One really good example of how I’m doing this right now, how this is really playing out in my life is my body image. I’m a woman in the United States of America. I mean, that should be enough for any of us to understand how complicated our own body images can be as individuals. And for me, this is my weight and my eating and the way I work out. And for most of my life, and I’m going to tell you up until pretty recently, and I’m thinking as recently as a year ago, I’ve just had this habit of punishing myself for not living up to impossibly high standards. And that’s just not sustainable for me in the long run. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to have such big issues with my own body image anymore.
So right now this is where the noticing comes in. I’m just noticing this when it comes up. When I notice something about my body image and it’s hard or harsh, I’m just seeing that. And I’m saying, okay, that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s okay. I’m not broken. I don’t have to change it. And I’m just really being gentle with myself in that way.
And at this point, I’m not trying to change anything about my body image. I’m not actively trying to change it anyway. I’m just noticing what I’m doing, which will give me hope for the future to take action from a place of something that I really do want to choose and maybe do differently about my body image.
Number two then is setting boundaries. And this means saying no more often saying yes, only with careful consideration. I just did two podcast episodes, one on saying no and one on saying yes, if you want to listen to that. And next to the first thing on my list, which was noticing things, this thing is definitely the one that makes the biggest difference for me in my everyday life.
In fact, it is so important to me that I created a whole online community to talk about boundaries in a safe place. It’s free. Anybody can join. You don’t have to be a caregiver. I really created it to encourage people to do the work of learning about boundaries and talking about boundaries. You can go join that now. There is a link to it in the show notes.
Number three on my list is giving myself a little time before I respond to pretty much anything that comes up in my life. You know, most of my life I’ve had this knee-jerk reaction of needing to respond to things right away, whether that was saying yes or saying no, or asking a question or agreeing with somebody or just keeping a conversation going. And I’m just giving myself space. I’m giving myself permission not to respond to things right away. I need that space. I need that space to breathe right now.
Number four on my list is listening to other people more. Now I think I’m already a pretty good listener. But this is something that’s helping me with number three, the more I listen to people, the more time and space I can get before I respond to things. So I’m listening to people more. And since I’m kind of in a weird place now with this business of learning how to be gentle for myself, I know that’s kind of hard for some of the people in my life, because I’m acting differently. And listening to them is certainly helping my relationships to be more safe and more smooth while I’m in this weird place.
Number five then is I am quite literally learning how to be gentle with myself. In fact, I just took a class on something called mindful self-compassion. That was a fabulous class. The authors of the work are Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I will leave a link to that website in the show notes.
Number six, I am taking more breaks and I am deliberately getting more rest. I’m taking short breaks. I’m taking long breaks. I am very intentionally resting my body and my mind during the day, which is helping me get more rest at night too. Oh, I also have over in the Boundaries Community, I wrote a guide called “How to Rest.” So if you want to go get that, you can go get that too. I talk all about resting in there.
Number seven, I am moving my body in ways that I love. And in ways that I can just dial down the intensity when I want to, or when I need to. And I’m talking about taking walks and gardening and doing yoga. I can do those things vigorously and with intensity if I want to, but I can also take those things a little more easily and I can be more gentle. So I’m really doing that with the way I move my body.
Number eight. I am eating the foods that help me feel most like myself. Now, most of these foods are what my kids call health nut foods, because that is very much a way that I like to eat. And I typically eat in what most people would think of as a very healthy fashion, but not all of the foods that I’m eating right now are what anybody would call healthy. I mean, I’m letting myself have a drink a few times a week. And I’m eating some sweets and some salty snacks, but at the same time, I’m also drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated. And yeah, the way I’m eating right now feels really good. And I do feel like myself.
Number nine, I am giving myself permission to do B-minus work. This one is really challenging for me as a perfectionist. I want to do everything at a minimum, I want to do “A” work. It would be best if I could do A-plus work, but that’s not being very gentle on myself. That’s actually being very hard on myself. And so there are times when I am letting myself just show up and get things done. And if it’s a C-plus or a B-minus, and it’s done, that’s good enough. And I could give you a lot of examples about that. Like the way my garden looks right now. But I would encourage you maybe to think about in your life, what you could do to do B-minus work and be a little more gentle with yourself too.
Number 10, I am getting help. I’m getting the help that I need. I get help from a therapist when I need it. My pastor is helping me with a lot of spiritual counseling, which has been wonderful. I am also in group coaching, so I’m really not kidding around about this. It does mean asking for help and letting people help me. It means I need to trust people enough to accept their help to receive that help, but I’m doing it and it’s making a big difference.
Number 11, I’m simply letting myself be here in this messy middle place. I’m letting myself be in this place. That’s weird for me and uncomfortable for me. And I don’t really know how to do this. I know how to learn new things. I don’t really know how to learn how to be gentle with myself. And so I’m just letting myself be here, where I don’t know what I’m doing. I call this the messy middle and I I’m just doing this for myself.
Number 12, I’m learning how to forgive myself. This is a really, really difficult one for me. I’m certain that I will do a whole episode on forgiving myself at some point or the whole idea of forgiveness. I haven’t known how to do it my whole life. I haven’t had the skill to do it. So what I’m doing now is I’m noticing the times that I could stand to give myself some forgiveness. I’m really kind of making a note of that. And that’ll be something that I’ll be learning for the future. For right now, I just know that it’s something I want to do. And so I am letting that idea of forgiveness take hold in my mind. And I’m hoping that that’s a seed that I can plant now, and that will grow later.
Number 13, I am not automatically taking responsibility for everything right now. I know this could sound really basic to you. It’s possible that everything I’m talking about today sounds really basic to you, but I do have to remind myself that I can’t take on everything. Look, I have family caregiver responsibilities. I have picked it up as a habit to just take on everything, but I can’t do that. I can’t take on everything and I can’t even take on most things. I have to pick and choose the very few things that matter the most to me in my life. And certainly right now in this season of my life, when I’m learning to be gentle with my myself.
And then number 14 on my list is I am feeling my real feelings. All of them. I don’t like to categorize feelings as good or bad, but a lot of feelings are challenging. Something like anger for me is a very challenging feeling to let myself feel. And I know that about myself and, and I didn’t really put this one here last for any particular reason, but it’s interesting. It’s last on my list. Of all the things I’ve talked about today, this is the one that I’ve actually been working on for the longest. So this one’s about letting myself truly feel grief, resentment, anger, disappointment, failure.
So this is not an easy one at all. I know I’ve talked about this in a lot of podcast episodes and what I’m working on right now is not just feeling all of these emotions, but it’s letting myself be at peace with the fact that I have these feelings. And be at peace with feeling these emotions and knowing that all it means is that I’m human and experiencing the sensation of feeling these feelings. And, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
So that is my list of the 14 things that I’m doing to learn to be more gentle with myself, because it’s what I need right now. I hope that some of these resonated with you. You know, I really do hope that some of these can get you started maybe on your own journey to be more gentle with yourself. So none of this is about me trying to prescribe to you how to do any of this.
At the same time. I hope that this list is helpful for you. I want you to know that it is possible to be gentle with yourself. I’m learning to do it. If you are very hard on yourself, or if you are learning to be gentle with yourself, you’re not alone. I see you.
I see you out there and please believe me on this. If I can do this, as hard as I’ve been on myself for my entire life, I want you to know that I really believe that anybody can do it. I’m going to be here in the podcast. I’ll keep showing up for you. You keep showing up for yourself.
I invite you to join me over in the Boundaries Community. Connect with me over there. If there’s anything you’d like to talk to me about, as it relates to you being hard on yourself or gentle with yourself. Or if there’s anything that really stood out to you today, about what I had to say about being hard on myself or being gentle on myself.
If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at Facilitator On Fire dot net. And that is Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.
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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