Cassie Manley Photo     By Cassie

“Self-Compassion: The Doorway to Self-Care”

I am so grateful that we talk regularly about self-care at the GCSW and that is a regular topic in social work education in general. In fact, I found a great definition of self-care from the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work which says that self-care, “refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being.” (The school has a great “Self-Care Starter Kit” if you are interested in more resources.)

As self-care began to come up in classes and discussions at the GCSW, I was reminded of a complementary concept that I learned of through the work of Dr. Kristin Neff: self-compassion. We know as social workers that part of our jobs is to serve as a compassionate presence to others, but I think that we may often forget about how we must also offer compassion to ourselves. Dr. Neff offers a three-part definition of self-compassion. I see it as three simple steps:

  1. Notice that you are suffering.
  2. Recognize that you are not alone; suffering is a part of the human experience.
  3. Be kind to yourself.

I know for me that I can default to a “toughen up, push through” attitude towards myself when I am having a difficult time, so much so that I may not even label what I am experiencing as suffering. If I feel sad or frustrated with my lack of expertise in my internship and I am criticizing myself for how I interacted with a client, Dr. Neff would say that this is a moment of suffering. She would go on to encourage me to take a moment and mentally note that this is the case. Then, she would tell me to remind myself that I am not alone, both in my struggles when learning something new and in my pain in response to my criticisms of myself. Lastly, she would gently push me to be kind to myself either through supportive self-talk messages and/or doing a small kind action for myself like taking a short break to enjoy a few peaceful minutes alone or to taking care of my body through drinking water, eating a snack, or even going to the bathroom (important self-care practices that are easy to neglect in the busy-ness of life).

Because of this process, I have come to see self-compassion as the doorway to self-care. I believe the first step, noticing our suffering, is required in order for us to go on to actually practice self-care. Dr. Neff offers a simple series of sentences that one can use as a mantra or prayer to help remember the parts of self-compassion. I have found it to be very helpful in my own life. She says,

“This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. May I give myself the kindness I need.”

I hope this information is as helpful to you as it has been to me! If you are interested in learning more about self-compassion, you can do so by visiting Dr. Neff’s website at self-compassion.org.

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