Last Friday morning, I hid in my wardrobe for a few minutes.
After a week of way too little sleep, working late nights, not enough self-care and too many toddler meltdowns, I felt myself losing my cool.
I quickly said to my son (who was rolling on the floor wailing because I went to get my jacket without him) “mummy needs to be by herself for a minute”. I turned around abruptly, walked into my wardrobe and stood in the dark, taking deep breaths to try to calm my heart rate.
My son was surprised. I heard him stop whining and mutter a slightly disappointed “oh”.
Have you ever had a moment like that? Where you felt your heart start to race, anxiety rising inside you, tears about to overflow or a compelling desire to run away?
It’s near impossible to make great mum decisions in that moment.
I want to share a valuable technique that takes only 1 minute, that you can use in moments like those, to provide kindness and compassion to yourself. It won’t solve all the problems you’re facing, but it will help you get through that awful feeling that you’re about to fall apart.
The fantastic thing about learning how to show yourself compassion is that you don’t have to rely on anyone else to be there, or to feel compelled to offer you compassion. You can draw on this skill whenever you need it.
What is self–compassion?
Let’s just take a moment to think about compassion. Compassion involves extending care, kindness and empathy to another person, without judgement. It also includes having a desire to lessen someone’s pain (even if you can’t).
Women are generally good at showing others compassion, but we’re less likely to extend compassion to ourselves (it can be much harder).
Instead, we’re more likely to either criticise and attack ourselves or ignore and repress our pain (which is sure to resurface later in some form and probably with a greater impact).
Kristin Neff, researcher and leading expert on self-compassion, explains that self-compassion has 3 elements:
- Self-kindness – refraining from criticising yourself.
- Recognising your own humanity – we are all imperfect and experience pain.
- Mindfulness – being aware of our pain as it is, rather than ignoring or exaggerating it.
Self-compassion is focused on making sure you’re happy and healthy in the long run. So, it’s not about engaging in activities that make you feel better in the moment, but aren’t actually good for you, like drinking too much alcohol or making consistently unhealthy diet choices.
It’s not pity and or taking the easy way out. It can actually be quite hard. And it might even feel more painful at first because you aren’t pushing the pain away. Instead, you’re accepting the pain and then supporting yourself to deal with it.
Why is it important?
Research has repeatedly shown that people who are self-compassionate are more optimistic, playful and accepting of their strengths and weaknesses. They judge themselves less and make healthier life choices. It’s also linked to higher emotional resilience and being more caring in relationships.
Self-compassion is a more powerful, kinder motivator than being critical of yourself. And the more compassionate you are towards yourself, the more compassionate you can be towards others.
And mums, I’m sure you want your children to be compassionate people. Well, you are their greatest role model. You can show them how this works.
Do you need to be more compassionate towards yourself?
If you already know you want to be better at self-compassion, then let me share this technique, that you can use whenever you feel like you’re about to fall apart.
Self-compassion: how to
I originally learned this self-compassion technique from Kirstin’s work and I’m sharing it with you today, incorporating the language and deep breathing I use in stressful mum moments.
You can use this technique anywhere. It takes only 1 minute. Step away briefly, or just tune out your surroundings a little.
If my wording doesn’t feel natural to you, then change it to your own. Just make sure it still achieves the purpose of the step, as shown in the table. Sometimes I find this technique allows me the pause I need to be able to think more clearly and make better decisions to handle the situation I’m in. After my wardrobe visit, I still felt emotionally battered, but I was able to go and pick up my son for the cuddles and reconnection we both needed.
What if it’s hard to feel kind and compassionate towards myself?
If you try this technique and have trouble feeling kind and compassionate towards yourself, here are a couple of simple strategies to try:
- Imagine how you would respond if a friend was going through the same thing.
Chances are it’s quite different to how you would respond to yourself.
For example, in my situation I could have said to myself “you’re a terrible, cranky, short tempered mum. Your son deserves better than this. Why can’t you control your emotions and be more tolerant”.
However, if a friend relayed the same situation to me, I would probably say something like “wow, you’ve had a really hard week. And little children can be very emotional. It’s really normal. You’re a great mum and you’ve been under a lot of stress lately. You both love each other so much. It’ll be ok”.
- If you have a friend who is particularly compassionate, imagine how they would respond to you.
You’ve got valuable real-life experience to draw on here. It’s also useful to reflect on how it feels to receive the compassion they extend to you, as this is the same as how it should feel when you are self-compassionate.
Ok lovely mum, it’s action time, because learning without action changes nothing.
Your action plan for this week is to give the self-compassion technique a try.
It can be hard to recall something you’ve only just learned when you’re in a stressful moment, so to practice when you’re in a less emotional state, try this:
- Find a comfortable place to sit for a few minutes.
- Think of something you’re struggling with or something that hasn’t gone so well recently.
- Close your eyes and recall the situation in as much detail as possible, including how it made you feel.
- Now walk through the steps of the self-compassion technique.
You can print the self-compassion minute technique as a card, if you’d like to keep it handy.
I hope this technique helps you as much as it helps me.
What else do you do to support yourself in those moments when you feel like you’re about to fall apart? Let me know in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org