Self-compassion

10 Self-Compassion Practices for COVID-19

By Chris Germer & Kristin Neff
Co-Developers of the Mindful Self-Compassion Program

Many people have asked us how self-compassion practice might help them get through this challenging time.  Everyone has been affected to some degree by the coronavirus, perhaps by anxiety about the invisible threat to our communities, loneliness from self-quarantine, economic hardship, or difficulties when we contract the virus ourselves or need to care for sick people.

Below are 10 practices from the Mindful Self-Compassion program that could be helpful, along with brief explanations. All these practices can be found in The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and guided recordings are available [click here] for those practices marked with an asterisk (*).

(1) Self-Compassion Break* – The 3 components of self-compassion are a powerful recipe for regulating difficult emotions.  The first component – mindfulness – helps us disentangle from what’s bothering us. The second component – common humanity – is an antidote to the loneliness that may come with social distancing. When we recall that we’re not alone no matter what we’re going through, things become more bearable. The third component of self-compassion – self-kindness – is an antidote to fear. Kindness regulates fear through connection and warmth, similar to what we might experience with a dear friend.

(2) Soothing Touch – We are less likely to receive physical expressions of kindness when we are in self-quarantine but we can still comfort ourselves with touch. Don’t be shy about offering yourself a hug, or by gently placing a hand over your heart, when you need it the most.  (Just be mindful about touching your face, please.)

(3) Giving and Receiving Compassion* – Although we need to physically distance ourselves from others because of the coronavirus, we don’t need to emotionally distance ourselves.  Connection feels good. We can stay in compassionate connection with others by following our breath – breathing compassion in for ourselves and out for others. This can be practiced at home or with others, on the cushion or in caregiving settings.

(4) Being with Difficult Emotions* –Isolation is not natural for human beings. Just being alone with ourselves for an extended period of time usually brings up challenging emotions. Labeling what we’re feeling while we’re feeling it calms the body, finding the emotion in the body anchors the experience, and responding to ourselves with compassion is the connection we’ve probably needed all along.

(5) Soles of the Feet – This practice anchors our awareness in the present moment when we feel emotionally overwhelmed.  The pandemic can be re-traumatizing for some people, for example, if feeling all alone or unsafe triggers traumatic memories. When we feel overwhelmed, it may be helpful to anchor our awareness in the sensations of our feet on the floor. We can redirect our attention away from our thoughts to the point of contact between our body and the earth, helping to ground and settle ourselves.

(6) Affectionate Breathing* – Another helpful practice for helping to ground ourselves when we feel overwhelmed is tuning in to the soothing rhythm of the breath. We can allow ourselves to be caressed by the gentle internal rocking motion of the breath in a way that is calming and soothing.

(7) Self-Compassion in Daily Life – We don’t need to practice meditation to experience self-compassion.  Simply asking ourselves, “How do I care for myself already?” is a self-compassionate act, and actually doing something nice for oneself is even better. For example, when we’re sequestered in our homes, we can still listen to music, dance, read a book, Skype with friends, or play games with family members.

(8) Compassionate Body Scan* – When we find ourselves scanning for signs of the coronavirus in our own bodies, the body begins to feel like an alien and we need to befriend it. We also need to remain friends with our bodies when they are stricken with the virus because the body is doing the best it can and it needs our support. The Compassionate Body Scan is a way to become more intimate and comfortable with our bodies no matter what condition we may be in.

(9) Core Values – The usual ways that we find meaning in life are likely to be interrupted by social distancing.  That doesn’t mean that we have to let go of what is most meaningful to us.  If you found meaning by providing financially for your family, perhaps you can still provide for your family – emotionally – until you return to work?  If you enjoyed meeting with friends, perhaps you can still meet with them online, maybe even with greater interest and understanding? Remaining connected to our core values and finding ways to stay true to them in the midst of disruption is an act of self-care.

(10) Savoring and Gratitude – Sooner or later, we will all become virus-weary and yearn for more joy in life.  Fortunately, joy is close at hand if we give ourselves permission to enjoy the simple things we still have.  Savoring a nice meal is a way to do that, or by taking yourself on a Sense and Savor Walk in the fresh air.  This practice involves letting yourself fully enjoy and take in what is beautiful or interesting to you – the bark of a tree, bird song, the smell of a flower, seeing the world with fresh eyes.  Gratitude is another way of cultivating joy – noticing the small things that enrich our lives that we tend to overlook–running water, morning sunlight, chopping vegetables. The list is endless.

Of course, a single self-compassion practice will not immediately change your life.  Self-compassion is learned slowly. The fruit of self-compassion practice is learning how to hold our struggles and ourselves in a loving embrace, just as we are. Self-quarantine can be like a retreat, albeit involuntary, and it’s an excellent time learn the practice of self-compassion.

Thank you for keeping the flame of compassion burning during these anxious times, and please stay safe.

The Promise of Self-Compassion for Attorneys

Co-authored by: Christy Cassisa and Kristin Neff

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 Issue of the American Bar Association’s GPSolo magazine, highlighting solo practitioners. However, clearly self-compassion can make a huge difference for all attorneys.

 

Justin Ortiz (a fictional solo-attorney) felt heavy and immobilized. He was sitting at his desk early Monday morning, beginning to review his to-do list for the day. With equal parts shame, panic, and dread, he re-read the notice from the court that he’d lost his motion for summary judgment in the Smith case. His stomach sank into his shoes, a feeling of despondence settled into his bones. He couldn’t believe he’d lost. He thought to himself, “I am such an incompetent lawyer- I never should have gone to law school!”

Returning to his list, he realized that there was no human way he could check through it and reluctantly began to prioritize. Which tasks were least likely to get him disciplined or disbarred if they went undone? Maybe he could beg opposing counsel to agree to a continuance in the Meyer hearing so he could work on the Luca brief today. After only two weeks researching and writing, the gnawing feeling in his stomach left him fearful that he’d missed something. I actually might be getting sick, he thought as he washed down two cold tablets with a cup of lukewarm coffee, followed by a jelly-filled donut.

His heart sank when he realized that he would also have to miss yet another of his son, Joey’s, little league games, despite his pinkie swear to the contrary, because he’d also signed up for that happy hour networking event. “I am the worst parent ever,” he thought.

He groaned inwardly, then realized that it had actually been audible when his Yorkie, Mitzy, picked up her head to look balefully at him. As she regarded him with reproach for another missed walk, he informed her, “Well, Mitzy, your human is a worthless idiot, and you’re responsible for fixing the printer today.”

Solo attorneys are unique in the legal profession. Rainmaker, researcher, IT specialist, janitor, business owner, litigator.  And maybe also parent, partner, volunteer, or one of any number of additional roles acquired in life. The pressure of trying to be and do it all can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, and burnout.  The very nature of solo lawyering can be isolating. There is no firm full of associates to back you up, no partner to take over if you have a sick day.

One exhausted solo practitioner explains this experience as it appears to her in a recurring dream: it’s like riding an incredibly tall, very unstable bicycle while juggling a hundred balls. If you slow down, or even worse, if you stop, the bike will fall over, you’ll drop all the balls, and you will break into a million jagged pieces. And there is no rest in sight.

Self-compassion may hold the key to keeping that bicycle upright and keeping those balls moving. It will also help when some balls are inevitably dropped, when failure happens, and when feelings of isolation set in. And it may even help with the decision to put down some balls, or say “no” to taking them on in the first place.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is like having your own personal motivational coach with you 24/7. A kind, comforting, and yet demanding coach, who holds you accountable and protects your long-term goals, while also acknowledging the pain of failure and suffering. Below we’ll elaborate on what self-compassion is and how it can be of great benefit to you in your life, personally and professionally.

The three core components of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.  So, what does this actually look like in real life?

Self-kindness means we soothe and comfort ourselves when in pain. It is internally offering ourselves the same support and kindness that we would offer to a dear friend who was suffering. Offering a kind ear and a hug instead of a criticism and a smack. It also means taking care of ourselves for our long-term benefit, putting ourselves on the priority list.

Common humanity involves recognizing that suffering is part of the shared human condition. None of us is unique in suffering. To be human is to accept that pain, challenge, failure, and misfortune happen to everyone. Every lawyer feels fear and doubt sometimes and encounters major obstacles. It goes with the territory of practicing law—and being human.

Mindfulness allows us to be with and validate our pain in an open and accepting manner. We have to notice that we’re suffering in order to be able to do anything about it. We learn to clearly see and accept the things that we can’t change so that we can respond wisely to our challenges instead of reacting on autopilot without thinking. Recognize the self-judgment when it happens and acknowledge that the situation stinks. But we don’t have to get lost in the feelings or the story.

Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering – that of others or ourselves. Self-compassion activates the mammalian “care system,” helping us to feel safe by being cared for and connected.  This sense of safety helps gives us the emotional support we need to deal with the stress of life.  Research finds that we can activate these care systems with simple actions like supportive touch (e.g., putting your hand on your own shoulder), and with a warm and gentle tone of voice.

But self-compassion can be ferocious as well as tender. These two poles are represented by the dialectic of yin and yang. Yin compassion is like a mother tenderly comforting her crying child. In this case, kindness, common humanity and mindfulness manifest as loving, connected presence. Yang compassion is like a mother bear ferociously protecting her cubs from harm. In this case the three components show up as fierce, empowered truth. Self-kindness means we fiercely protect ourselves. We stand up and say “NO! I need to do what is best for me and protect myself if necessary.” Common humanity helps us to recognize that we are not alone in this struggle. For the solo practitioner, it means connecting with your community and feeling supported. And mindfulness manifests as clearly seeing the truth of our situations so that we can choose wise, intentional, and sometimes fierce action.

When we accept our own pain with a fiercely loving and connected presence, we can transform and heal.

“Pain is just weakness leaving the body”

To many lawyers, however, the idea of self-compassion is anathema to being a tough, successful lawyer. Schooled in the Socratic Method, lawyers are trained to expect that shame and ridicule are the natural and justified byproducts of an incorrect response. The practice of law requires intense attention to detail and a mistake may result in millions of dollars in fines or multiple years in prison, so perfection seems a professional necessity, and shame a small price to pay in comparison.

The concept of actually being kind to ourselves when we make a mistake may also feel downright alien to many lawyers who tend to be pessimistic, skeptical, and perfectionistic. Predicting and planning for the worst may often protect clients from negative outcomes, so these traits are often reinforced by positive results. But pessimists and skeptics tend to carry this negative thinking with them everywhere- into the home, relationships, volunteer activities, recreational pursuits, and other arenas where it may not be valued or appreciated. This can lead to difficult and unfulfilling relationships and feelings of unhappiness.

High-achieving and hard-driving types abound in the legal profession, but perfectionism, defined as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one’s goals, doesn’t allow for shortcomings. Unfortunately, the energy required to maintain the façade of perfection takes its toll and can lead to anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Even lawyers deserve kindness and care

Many lawyers may think that self-compassion is too touchy feely and that if they indulge in such feelings, they will lose their edge.  While skepticism is understandable, research findings debunk some of the common misconception about the construct.

  1. Self-compassion is not self-pity. Thinking about bringing kindness to yourself when you make a mistake or feel badly may trigger thoughts of “Oh, woe-is-me” or “I’m so pitiful” or “It’s all about me.” However, with self-compassion, the understanding of common humanity allows us to realize that we all suffer and the mindful recognition of our own suffering helps us to see it clearly for what it is. Research shows that self-compassionate people are better able to take a clear-eyed perspective of the reality of our situation and are less likely to spend time ruminating.
  2. Self-compassion is not self-indulgent. Self-kindness and offering ourselves what we need in the face of suffering may be misinterpreted as a form of self-indulgence that sanctions wallowing in our misery soothing ourselves with a pint of triple chocolate chunk ice cream and a bottle of merlot. However, self-compassionate people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise, eating well, drinking less, and going to the doctor more regularly. Self-compassion helps us keep in mind that we want long-term health and success, not short-term pleasure.
  3. Self-compassion is not selfish. Sometimes we have to put our own needs first, and then meet others’, an approach to which many of us aren’t accustomed. Lawyers who take care of everything for everyone else, and who don’t take care of themselves, burn out faster, build up resentment, and compromise their ability to connect with clients (and often family and friends too). The analogy of “putting on your own oxygen mask first” when on an airplane is a clear example. There’s no helping anyone if you’re passed out!  Research shows that those who bring themselves into the circle of compassion and care through a sense of common humanity have the ability to be more supportive and compassionate towards others.
  4. Self-compassion is not weak. It takes strength to take care of yourself. Recall that concept of yang compassion- a fierce protectiveness and motivator. Studies show that self-compassionate people are more resilient in the face of difficulty and challenges. They are able to cope more effectively with tough situations like divorce, chronic pain, and trauma. For the solo attorney who may face many emotionally challenging situations, self-compassion offers an internal strength, a resource to handle and recover from setbacks.
  5. Self-compassion is not making excuses for yourself. Some of us look for someone else, anyone else, to blame for mistakes because we can’t stand the pain of admitting imperfection. Research shows self-compassionate people are actually more likely to take responsibility for their own actions, because they realize that everyone makes mistakes, and accepting the reality of a tough situation allows a more intentional and effective response.
  6. Self-compassion will not undermine motivation. This is a biggie for attorneys- especially solo attorneys who often have to rely on their own internal drive and determination to get things done, because there is no backup team ready to step in. Many of us grew up with the belief that mental self-flagellation was the only way to motivate ourselves. That inner critic has good intentions. It wants us to “do better,” “try harder,” “work smarter.”  Unfortunately, this internal criticism often proves counterproductive. When we make mistakes or fail, we learn that it’s not safe to try again and we become risk-averse. Research shows that self-compassionate people still have high standards, are less afraid of failure, and are more willing to try again if they do fail.

The self-compassionate solo.

So, what might this actually look like in the real life of a solo practitioner, when the proverbial rubber hits the road? Let’s take a look back at Justin Ortiz’s day.

Practicing mindfulness: Justin realized that he was feeling heavy and immobilized. Sitting at his desk early Monday morning, he paused for his daily 10-minute mindful check-in meditation practice to calm and focus his mind and body before diving into his email.

Practicing kindness: Once he opened his email, he began reading the notice from the court that he’d lost his motion for summary judgment in the Smith case. His stomach sank into his shoes, a feeling of despondence settled into his bones. He couldn’t believe he’d lost. He pressed his palm to his forehead, and felt the warmth of his hand. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and acknowledged the pain of the loss. Then he offered himself some kind words of support, “Wow this totally sucks. I feel so terrible for myself and for my client. I did a ton of research and I know I’m a good writer because I have lots of wins.

Practicing common humanity:  Then Justin was able to see the bigger picture.  “This happens to lots of lawyers, almost every case has a losing side. The facts just weren’t on our side this time. I will review it once more to make sure there wasn’t something we could have done better, but I’m pretty sure we did our best.”

Yin & yang self-compassion: He remembered that he’d not been feeling very well the last few weeks. He rubbed his temples gently as he thought to himself, “I have that doctor’s appointment today- I’ve already rescheduled twice and this is my only body. I’ll request a continuance in the Meyer case and I’ll submit the Luca brief today. I’ve worked on it for two weeks and I know it’s good stuff. I’ve got this.  After the doc, I’ll swing by the networking event for an hour, drop off some business cards and have a Perrier before heading over to catch the second half of Joey’s ballgame. Life’s too short.”

Justin stretched, took another deep and cleansing breath, and dove into his challenging day with a sense of resilience and of being supported by his own internal coach.

Same day. Yet completely different.

Call to Sign Up: Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy Global Discussion Group

Dear MSC Friends,

In 2019 we started hosted a wonderful discussion session for MSC teachers who are also therapists. We take an hour each month to connect and share with colleagues around the world who are also MSC teachers and practicing therapists. We talk about how we use MSC in our clinical work and how our clinical work interacts with our MSC courses. The discussion is wide-ranging and energizing. Since the session happens at sunrise in Los Angeles, mid-day in Europe and evening in Asia, we’re able to welcome colleagues from around the globe. We’ve been inspired by the wonderful range of participants and experiences. We’d like to invite all MSC teachers who are also therapists to sign up to receive 2nd Tuesday SCIP announcements directly from us using this link.

Gratefully,

Cori Rosenthal and Ben Weinstein
(2nd Tuesdays SCIP Facilitators)

On the Road to Empowerment: Fierce Self-Compassion for Mothers

by Alison Rogers
Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher, and Author

“This is a wonderful gift to any new mother. When we cultivate inner warmth, kindness, and health it not only helps us as mothers, but also helps everyone around us, including the new life we bring into the world. This book will help you care for your body with gentle yoga poses, and to relate to yourself with more wisdom and compassion so that your experience of motherhood is as fulfilling as possible.” – Dr. Kristin Neff, Author of Self-Compassion

Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering—that of others or ourselves— and can be ferocious as well as tender.

-Kristin Neff


Mothers are both fiercely and tenderly compassionate towards their children, but not as often towards themselves. Kristin Neff wrote the words above in response to the Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement. But it feels just as pertinent when we think about mothers today. Self-compassion can be an antidote to the intense self-critiquing and cultural judgement of new mothers. Sometimes mothers need tender self-compassion, and sometimes they need to be ferocious about resisting shame, caring for themselves and asking for what they need. New mothers often feel conflicted and uncertain about the many significant decisions they are required to make. They are faced with layers of conflicting and contradictory social and cultural expectations with few realistic options for meeting those expectations. Work or stay home? Breast or bottle-feed? Crib or co-sleep? Any one of these choices can make a woman feel like the wrong sort of mother.

And this type of double bind — doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t — results in many women feeling powerless, ashamed, and conflicted. No wonder many new mothers feel anxious, exhausted and lonely. 

Mindful Self-Compassion practices encourage mothers to take time to listen to their feelings and thoughts without becoming over identified with them, to feel kinder and more protective towards self, and to realize that all mothers struggle with conflicting feelings, unrealistic and contradictory expectations, and at times, isolation.

In a recent article in Elle magazine on the resistance to mother shaming, there was reference to a national poll conducted in 2017 by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that found that 6 in 10 mothers have been judged for their parenting, most often by family members. And that in another poll that year, sponsored by the baby food company Beech-Nut, found that 80 percent of millennial moms said they’ve been criticized by someone they know. “Guilt and shame are the watchwords of today’s mothering,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and a senior fellow on the Council on Contemporary Families.

In 2011, I conducted a small pilot project for mothers diagnosed with postpartum mood disorders. Each workshop consisted of guided mindful yoga, a sharing circle and self-compassion practices. At the end of the workshop series, 8 of the 10 participants had higher scores on the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) and lower scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Women in the workshops reported that they felt more relaxed, capable and less alone after the workshops. I attribute many of the benefits to the practices of self-compassion that were woven into every aspect of the movement, discussions and meditations.

In our forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers, Erin White and I invite new mothers to take short pauses to practice self-compassion through breathing, and short mindful yoga.

In 10 chapters we offer mothers practices to increase awareness, and self-compassion, so that they can find their own authentic voice as they make the challenging and deeply meaningful transition into motherhood.

An excerpt:

Yoga is Embodied Self-compassion

“Mindful yoga is a physical expression of self-compassion. We offer compassion to our body, mind, and heart by giving it some loving attention through stretching, soothing, and opening. Yoga moves us out of our heads and into our bodies by yoking the breath with movement and focusing attention on the body and its sensations rather than the thinking mind. Yoga gives you the tools to relax and reset your nervous system. As the nervous system relaxes, it becomes easier to pay attention with gentle compassion toward yourself.” 

From Comparison to Kindness 

 Self-compassion reduces anxiety and the sense of isolation in mothers. Self-compassion is not self-pity. We’ve come to understand self-compassion as a kind of friendship with ourselves. From an early age, women are taught how to be good to our friends, to listen to their stories, to bolster their spirits in difficult times. To look at them with generous eyes. This is how we can see ourselves. We can be curious, loving, patient, impressed with all we have accomplished, excited by the great adventure of our lives. At first it can be hard to see ourselves this way! But early motherhood is the perfect time to learn how. In this period, we have more capacity for love than at any other point in our lives. So why not include yourself in that expanding circle of love, protection, and care? Sylvia Boorstein says, “let me greet the present moment as a friend,” which seems like a great place to begin a practice of compassion. Because if you can greet this moment as a friend, you’re greeting it with generosity and love. And by greeting it, you are, in a way, greeting yourself. Not the self that you were—or that you hope to be or wish to be or think you should be—but your present-moment self. 

As mothers, we need connections, not comparisons. And we need compassion. The shift from a comparing mind to a kind mind is more important even than mindfulness. You can practice self-compassion by pausing and resting long enough to ask yourself how you feel—and long enough to wait for an honest answer. “

When a woman feels less anxious, more aware of her own emotions and more tender and fiercely compassionate towards herself and others, she is empowered to resist shame and step out in her own unique imperfect, and good-enough version of motherhood.

This article was excerpted in part from the forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers; Rest, Stretch and Smile—One Yoga Minute at a Time. By Alison Rogers with Erin O. White. North Atlantic Books. Find more at: www.theyogaofparenting.com

The transition to motherhood offers endless opportunities for harsh self-judgment. But the opportunities for growth and a new and profound form of love are just as endless. Love for your baby, but also love for your imperfect self, your imperfect life. 

For some of us, self-compassion is a new concept, but there is no time like the transition into motherhood to learn the skills of self- compassion. We can learn to be as gentle with our new motherself as we are with our new baby. Self-compassion makes it easier to have compassion for your own parents, partner, friends, and colleagues.”