During periods of turmoil and distress, it is easy to be hard on ourselves and let our fear and shame dictate our emotions, actions, and thoughts. If you’re like most people, it can be easy to fall into a trap of believing that we’re the problem and that if we only worked harder, planned better, made a different choice, insert your own “should” here, we would be experiencing less emotional distress and greater fulfillment.
Suffering is a part of being human. And being human is hard. It is easy to get swept away in futile attempts at perfection rather than allowing ourselves to be at peace with the reality that life involves suffering and darkness. It is then our job to do what Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, refers to as “bearing our pain skillfully” rather than pushing it away, avoiding difficult emotions, blaming ourselves, or succumbing to self-doubt. When we experience something that shakes us to our core, an attitude of gentleness and self-compassion is often the most helpful stance to promote healing.
What does it mean for you to be gentle to yourself? For some it may look like reminding ourselves daily that we’re doing the best we can. For others it may mean clearing your schedule in order to spend some time taking care of ourselves, creating more reasonable expectations, or setting helpful boundaries in relationships. Gentleness is the active, intentional choice to treat ourselves as humans deserving of kindness and love, whether we believe that about ourselves or not.
The following resources are designed to help you move away from a mindset of self-shaming and create more space for gentleness and self-compassion.
Insight Timer – Guided Meditations for Self-Compassion: Insight Timer is a user-friendly meditation app that allows you to choose from a large selection of prerecorded guided meditations or use their timer feature to meditate on your own with the option to play various peaceful background noises (nature sounds, bells, etc.). “Five Minutes of Self-Compassion” by Lisa Abramson is a lovely and brief way to ground ourselves in lovingkindness and remind ourselves that we are all doing our best.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown - Brene Brown’s research primarily focuses on shame, vulnerability, and worthiness. In The Gifts of Imperfection she calls readers to move away from our constant need to “perform, please, and perfect” and embrace our own imperfections and failures on the path to living a “wholehearted” life.
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer – Germer invites us to challenge our inner critic and take steps towards being more present-focused. This book provides a balance of practical mindfulness exercises, scientifically based research findings, and wisdom from Germer’s years as a therapist.
I hope these resources can be good jumping off points for creating a practice of self-compassion. What are other steps you can take towards cultivating gentleness towards yourself? Maybe it’s honoring your body’s physical needs with sufficient sleep, nourishment, and water. Or perhaps it’s rescheduling a social engagement for a time when you know you’ll have the capacity to be present and enjoy it.
I’d love to hear from you! How were you able to cultivate gentleness this week?