We completed the first month of 2021…how has it been for you so far? On a positive note, the Covid-19 vaccinations have been rolled out, the second lockdown is ALMOST behind us, and winter is more than halfway finished. For those who committed to New Year’s resolutions, you are probably still motivated to do what you planned to do…if so, GOOD FOR YOU! And, before the month is finished, Happy Black History Month!
February is also the month that hosts the day of love and affection – Valentine’s Day. For some, this day symbolizes the celebration of the emotional, intellectual and physical connections that we have with our significant others – our partners, our children, our dearest friends. For others, this day can be more challenging – a day to remind us of the “love” that may not be present in our lives, or the relationships that are no longer here, leading us to experience feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. Some of us don’t acknowledge this day and view it as a commercialized event characterized by an influx of jewelry, clothing and car commercials that identify these material items as observable measures of just how much you are cared for.
To complicate things further, we are in the midst of a second lockdown in Ontario, which means more restrictions on social contact, closures of venues that would be the site of some celebrations, limits to social gatherings and, in some areas, stay at home orders. This makes things difficult every day, not just on February 14th, but nonetheless, it exacerbates the isolation during a day that focuses on the human need for social connection.
Self-compassion is so important during this time because we are always in the presence of one person who is capable of showing ourselves love and affection. Hint: I am referring to yourself.
Let me be clear: this article is not just for those who are struggling through this time. Self-compassion is one of those no-need-to-explain practices that can be used by everyone.
“Self-compassion” refers to our ability to provide comfort and kindness to ourselves in the same manner that we would a dear friend or child. For example, if a friend came to us and expressed feelings of loneliness or sadness, we would likely comfort this friend with kind and loving words and actions. We may say, “I’m sorry you feel this way but I am here for you”, or “I know this hurts. What do you need to feel better?”. You may comfort your friend with a soft hug or place your hand on your friend’s shoulder. What you WOULDN’T say (hopefully) are things like, “Yeah, it’s probably because no one likes you”, “You don’t deserve happiness anyway” or “It’s not that big of a deal. You’re overreacting. Get over it.” Why are we not worth the same kind words, too? Why do we speak to ourselves in such mean and judgmental ways?
According to Kristin Neff, self-compassion consists of three important elements:
- Mindfulness: recognizing and accepting that we are feeling something unpleasant (anger, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, sadness) with no judgement;
- Common Humanity: recognizing that we are not alone and we are, in fact, connected to many others who may be experiencing something similar; and
- Self-kindness: offering ourselves warmth and comfort in the same way we would a dear friend who may be experiencing similar feelings.
Self-compassionate practices are helpful everyday, but if you are feeling the extra loneliness of Valentine’s day, they can be especially helpful now. I will share my favourite practices here and hope that they are of help to you too.
Soothing Touch & Affectionate Breath
We often feel our pain and suffering emotionally and physically. When you close your eyes and focus on how you are feeling, notice if there is any part of your body that experiences sensations – tightness, tenseness, discomfort, pain. Wherever you feel it in your body, place a warm hand on it and place enough pressure on the area to begin feeling calm. Some people find placing their hand over their heart or stomach or forehead as comforting. Take deep breaths and direct your breath to the area that you are comforting. Continue breathing, moving slowly with each inhale and exhale until you begin to feel more peaceful.
This is a short practice that you can try, using the three core elements of self-compassion. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Mindfulness: Focus your attention on what emotions you are experiencing. Say softly to yourself, “I feel __________.”, “This is painful”, “This is hard”. Make your own mindful statements, identifying and acknowledging how you feel in this moment with no judgment or criticism (so, no “buts”, or “because”, or any of that).
Common Humanity: Remind yourself that suffering is something that we all experience as humans. Not in a minimizing way, but in a way to feel connected with people. Say things to yourself like, “How I feel is common”, “I am not alone in this”, “There are others who may be going through the same thing”.
Self-Kindness: Recognize where you feel it in your body and place a warm hand on that area (Soothing Touch). Use kind words to comfort yourself like, “I am doing your best”, “This, like most emotions, is temporary”, and “I am going to be okay”. If you have trouble thinking of what to say to yourself, think about what you would say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing.
If it’s hard to say kind words to yourself, it may be more meaningful if you write them down. Think about someone in your life who has been supportive and compassionate towards you – a friend, a family member. Think about what they would say to you or what you would want them to say to you during this time to comfort you. Write a letter to yourself, using the voice and words of someone who is trying to support and care for you. Use kindness, empathy, encouragement and love in your words. One of the great things about this exercise is that you can store it away and open it up whenever you need it!
Ask yourself “What do I need?”
If this time is a difficult time for you, take the time to ask yourself, “What do I need?“. We can “want” many things that are not possible at this time for various reasons. But we can meet our needs by giving ourselves the permission to take care of ourselves. For example, find a movie that you have always wanted to watch and order or make your favourite meal and give yourself the enjoyment that you need. If it’s connection that you need, arrange to video chat or call a friend or a loved one. If it’s warmth that you need, embrace yourself with your most comfortable clothes and thickest blanket. If you need to cry, then cry. Buy yourself a small token of love for yourself if this is what you need. Show yourself your worth and value. Treat yourself like the special person that you are. Celebrate your talents and interests – read a book, paint a picture, sing at the top of your lungs, dance to your favourite songs. We have all gone through so much loss and change lately. We deserve this.
I hope these suggestions help you in being kind to yourself. Happy February!
Suggestions from “Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself” by Kristin Neff, PhD, and “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive” by Kristin Neff, PhD, and Christopher Germer, PhD.
For more information on self-kindness or Kristen Neff’s work, visit self-compassion.org.