The Self-Compassionate Caregiver

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Those who have taken care of a seriously ill partner, a child with special needs, or an incapacitated parent on a long-term basis know the relentless, sapping strain of it. Kristin Neff–a professor of human development and mother of an autistic son, writing for Psychology Today–opines that every caregiver should practice self-compassion to “recharge our batteries and have the emotional energy needed to serve others.”

What, exactly, is self-compassion? Neff turns to the writings of various Buddhist scholars to draw out three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. She explains:

Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.

Though we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, Neff sees it as crucial for overburdened, and sometimes underappreciated, caregivers. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations,” she says, “it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.” She continues:

As a mother of a child with autism, I can tell you what a lifesaver self-compassion was for me….  When my son screamed and screamed because his nervous system was being overloaded and I couldn’t figure out the cause, I would soothe myself with kindness.  When my son lost it in the grocery store and strangers gave me nasty looks because they thought I wasn’t disciplining my child properly, I’d give myself the compassion I wasn’t receiving from others. In short, self-compassion helped me cope, and that put me in the balanced emotional mind state needed to deal skillfully with whatever new challenges confronted me.

Want to find out how much self-compassion you have? Take Neff’s online test.

Source: Psychology Today

Image by kevinpoh, licensed under Creative Commons.

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