Self-Compassion: A Neglected Form of Self-Care

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We may notice our frizzy hair, crooked teeth, short eyelashes, thin lips, uneven eyebrows or a plethora of other things. Yet when others look at us, they are more prone to see what we overlook–that we are friendly, optimistic, outgoing, hard working, strong, resilient, creative, kind, sensitive, thoughtful… Why are we so much harder on ourselves than we are on others?!

I recently opened a “Marriage Minute” email from the Gottman Institute and read about self-love. This is something that has been on my mind over the last several weeks, and I thought it would be helpful to dedicate a post to a powerful form of self-care that we often overlook: Self-compassion.

Compassion itself is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” In order to have compassion, we must first notice that someone is suffering, and then we feel moved by their suffering so that our hearts respond to their pain. When we extend compassion, we feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means we offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Compassion is the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Even though we all need it, self-compassion is so much easier to show someone else than it is to show ourselves! The time has come to focus on extending this kind of compassion to others as well as ourselves.

Practicing compassion towards ourselves is really no different from having compassion for someone else. Self-compassion is…

  • Acting the same way towards ourselves as we do others when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we do not like about ourselves.
  • Being gentle with ourselves when confronted with painful experiences.
  • Cutting ourselves some slack instead of ignoring pain or judging ourselves harshly.
  • Being kind and understanding when confronted with imperfections.
  • Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating (punishing) ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable.

To be clear, self-compassion is NOT self-pity (being immersed in our own problems), self-indulgence (unrestrained gratification of our desires), or self-esteem (our perceived sense of worth or value).  

Ultimately, self-compassion is an ongoing process of honoring and accepting our humanness, and recognizing that things will not always go our way. It is knowing that we will inevitably encounter frustrations, make mistakes, and fall short of our ideals. This is the human condition–a reality shared by all of us! The more we open our hearts to this fact–instead of constantly fighting against it–the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and all our fellow humans in the experience of life.

Here is my challenge to you: The next time you are tempted to put yourself down, practice self-compassion instead. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your effort is what counts. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate your progress. Be kind to yourself. I can assure you that implementing more compassion (towards yourself) into your life will have a powerful and positive effect on how you view yourself, others, and the world. Should you find that you need help working through self-deprecation, please do not hesitate to contact me today. I am always accepting new clients!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Cutting Shame Off at the Knees

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist“Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” -Brené Brown

Regardless of age, gender or nationality, we all experience shame from time to time. Dr. Brené Brown, an author and researcher, explains in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” And that is what I want to focus on today–cutting shame off at the knees.

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated her career to researching shame and vulnerability. She describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The dictionary defines shame as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. We all feel it; in fact, it was recently found that even babies can experience shame!

It is important to note that there is a distinction between shame and guilt. While shame means, I am bad, guilt means, I did something bad. Shame is debilitating, it can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves and others. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make adjustments or restitution, and create new paths.

Let’s talk about real life examples of shame. How many of us have ever scrolled through social media to see someone doing something we wish we could do–affording a luxury vacation, building their dream home, accepting a prestigious position, holding a difficult yoga pose, cooking a beautiful multi-course meal for friends, reaching 10k followers, etc? We all have. What was our next thought? For many of us it is, I could never do that, I’m not smart, rich or talented enough! This is shame. Shame holds us back and debilitates is. It tells us we are “bad,” which can prevent us from changing or doing better. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change or progress. Further, it can lead to addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying. Because of the powerful implications of shame, we must identify our feelings of shame, understand them and build healthy coping skills against it! Here are five ways to cut shame off at the knees:

  • Bring shame to the light. Know what it is and what it feels like. Recognize when it sneaks into life. TALK about it. Awareness is the first step!
  • Recognize triggers. Shame is good at hitting us where we are vulnerable. A new mom who secretly feels out of her depth is more likely to feel shame when her parenting style is questioned. A husband who worries about providing may see his spouse’s comment about the neighbor’s new car as an attempt to shame him rather than an innocent observation. We must know where our armor is thin and work to strengthen and protect those areas.
  • Stop striving for perfection.  Dr. Brown has said that perfectionism is like a process addiction–the more you do it, the more you feel compelled to do it. Perfectionism is a common ailment among many of my clients, and it is corrosive. It tells us nothing we do is good enough…so why try?  Perfectionism and shame go hand-in-hand. When we work to stop one, we will find there is not room for the other!
  • Practice positive self-talk. The first option for positive self-talk is positive affirmations. These are powerful; by voicing what we believe (or want to believe) about who we are, and what we are capable of, can decrease our feelings of shame. By literally repeating something (out loud) enough we will start believing it. The second option is simply speaking more kindly to ourselves. If we were to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our children…we would never speak to them as negatively as we do to ourselves! Be kind. Practice self-love through our inner dialogue.
  • Deeply root self-worth. If we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. When separate what we do from our sense of self-worth we will find freedom. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective each deserves, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.

Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions humans can feel. It can stunt growth and corrode motivation. It is always looming. Unfortunately, we cannot “beat” or overcome shame once and be done with it. Instead, we must view our relationship with shame as ongoing: recognize when shame is creeping in (know our triggers), speak kindly to ourselves (affirmations), and remember that we are so much more than what we do or look like. Working to cut shame off at the knees is one of the most common subjects among my clients–everyone is feeling it! I fully understand that shame can get in the way of the important things and relationships in life. If you want to more fully understand how shame is holding you back, or if you have questions and would like additional help, I would be more than happy to assist you. Feel free to contact me or schedule a session!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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15 Minutes to a Happier You

15 Minutes to a Happier You - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples TherapistThere are so many things all around us threatening to tear us down or make us feel less than we are. The dangers of comparison through social media is ever-present, and sometimes we just need to reconnect with who we really are. This post contains an activity you can download and complete at your leisure that will surely help boost your positive self-image!

At the end of each month, I post about self-care. This is one of my favorite topics because it is something I believe in so deeply, and has a profound effect on our overall health. Self-care is a powerful tool that enables us to literally care for ourselves, both body and mind. Last month I wrote a post in which I compared self-care (also referred to as mental hygiene) to the things we do to take care of our bodies–like brushing our teeth, exercising, or eating a balanced diet. All of these affect how we function and ultimately view life. I highly recommend taking this last weekend of July to revisit your 2018 goals, and consider focusing on self-care.

Today I want to do something a little bit different than my normal quick blurb on self-care. I want to introduce an activity and invite you to thoughtfully complete it. It will not take more than 15 minutes of your time, and I promise you will find some satisfaction and meaning in it!

Below you will find a document ready for you to download. It is simple and straightforward. If you do not have a printer, or would prefer to write it out yourself, here are the instructions. Write out the following:

  • 25 things you’ve overcome or accomplished in life
  • 25 reasons why you’re a good, lovable person
  • 25 things that make your life beautiful (or that you’re grateful for)
  • 10 people that inspire you to be your best self (and how)
  • 10 things you want to work on, learn, or improve
  • 5 fun ways you will reward yourself as you progress (trips, food, gifts, etc)

Click here for the doc

And there you have it! You now have a 100 item list that is sure to boost your confidence and self-image. Focusing on your strengths, growth and talents is an essential part of self-care and positive mental image. I recommend doing a similar activity regularly–both to keep yourself humble and to boost your self-esteem. 🙂

Should you have questions or wish to schedule a session with me, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am only one click away!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Self-Esteem & Self-Worth: Two essential Components of the Self

Cluff Counseling - Self-Esteem & Self-Worth - Lewisville CounselorWe live in a world where too often what our friends and peers think of us is the most important thing. We worry about making a good impression, about showing the best of our lives, and about being liked. Instead of caring so much about what others think about us, what if we spent our time improving what we think and feel about ourselves? This post will be the first in a small series on self-esteem and self-worth; this week I want to discuss the difference between the two, and, in future posts, I will focus on building your existing self-esteem and self-worth.

It is common to see the terms self-esteem and self-worth used interchangeably, yet these two terms are fundamentally different. Once we understand the fundamental distinctions between the two, we will be able to focus on both of them individually and improve emotional health.

Self-worth
First, I want to talk about self-worth. Self-worth is defined as the value you give to yourself, without the impact of external factors. It is not determined by what others think of you. How valuable do you think you are? What do you think you deserve to have and accomplish in this life? If you have a happy, fulfilling relationship, or a stable job, do you deserve these things? Or, if you are stuck in a rut and/or unhappy, do you think you deserve that? It is not superficial, but instead formed from your opinion of yourself, your innate gifts, talents, and abilities. Often, our upbringing will determine what we believe we deserve… or do not deserve. The good news is that our self-worth does not have to be fixed or stagnant. You can value yourself in different ways; some may choose to focus on gaining material achievements over spirituality while others may focus on spiritual gain rather than materialism.  By elevating our self-worth, we can earn and yearn for new heights and depths of good things in this life.

Self-esteem
Self-esteem is the appreciation that you have for yourself; it is fleeting and can change on a whim. It is greatly dependent upon external versus internal factors. You might get dressed and ready for the day, feeling like a million bucks. But when someone calls you a name or slanders your work, you can suddenly feel deflated, worthless, and insignificant. Others can easily damage your self-esteem by their responses. Self-esteem is also intricately tied to your physical appearance; a bad haircut, acne, weight gain/loss, or dirty clothes can affect your self-esteem. Self-esteem is fragile, and can rock back and forth (like a pendulum) for many. The good new is, though, that self-esteem is more easily bolstered than self-worth, as one compliment can quickly lift your spirits and leave you feeling better about yourself temporarily.

When we focus on building self-esteem, we tend to work on being better at this or that (ie. losing weight, becoming healthier, thinking more positively, developing healthy personality traits–which are all good things). But when we place our entire value in them, our own supposed value can come crashing down at any given moment. Whereas if you know that you are of great worth–no matter what you think, feel, or do, or despite whether you fail or not–your core knowledge of your fundamental worth does not change. This is something I focus on in individual, couple, and group therapy since your perception of yourself and what you believe you deserve carries over into all aspects of your life and relationships; this is always one of the first places I start in my sessions with clients. If you sense that you are struggling with your self-perception and self-worth, please schedule a session with me today. And stay tuned for future blog posts where I will discuss how to improve your self-esteem, as well as how to place more importance on your ideas of self-worth.

Resources:
Difference Between: “Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth”
Dr. Christina Hibbert: “Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q & A with Dr. Christina Hibbert”
Online Counseling College: “Self-worth Versus Self-esteem”
Psychology Today: “Reframing Self-esteem as Self-worth”