Self-Compassion: The Caregiver’s Secret Weapon

You love the person you care for and would do anything for them. You shower them with kindness and compassion for the struggles that they face every day. You are eager to provide them the best quality of life possible, and will do so regardless of what it takes. You want to ease their pain or suffering. Does this sound like you? Can you relate to any of these statements as a caregiver of a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling or best friend?

Now think about yourself. Are you as kind and gentle with yourself as you are with the person you care for? Do you have compassion for yourself and the situation that you find yourself in? Or do you judge yourself harshly, have a strong inner critic, and feel disappointed with yourself on a regular basis? Do you experience caregiver quilt, and think that you could be doing more to help your loved one? Do you also have the feeling that anyone else could do this caregiver role better than you?

Self-compassion may not be a term that you hear every day, but it is vital that as a caregiver, you understand what it means to be as compassionate with yourself as you are with the person you love and care for.

As Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion states, “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a stiff upper lip mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now,’ how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

How can you comfort and care for yourself? Here are five ideas for how to cultivate the habit of self-compassion:

  1. Recognize and accept that you are not perfect, and that is okay. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. It is part of being human.
  2. Be gentle with yourself when faced with a challenging or difficult situation. Acknowledge the difficulty rather than sweeping it under the rug, and thinking that everyone else would be able to handle it better than you.
  3. Write down everything that you did today for the person you care for. Acknowledge all the good that you have done rather than directing your focus on what you didn’t do, or think you could have done better.
  4. Write down one loving and kind thing that you did for yourself today.
  5. Let the guilt go because it is a negative emotion with no purpose other than to drain much needed energy from you.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to caregiving. The only thing that counts is that you do the best you can in any given moment. Do you think your loved one would want you to feel disappointed, frustrated or badly about yourself? Or would they want you to know how much they appreciate you and the blessings that you bring to their life?

We’ve all heard the expression ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ or ‘you can’t give what you don’t have’.  The same applies to compassion. It is time to direct some of that loving kindness and compassion toward yourself. As the Dalai Lama said, “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Now go forth with love and compassion for yourself and everyone else!

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