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Gentleness, Clarity and Self-Compassion

Let me tell you a story:

Last Monday, I sat down to write my very first Monday Museletter at 3:00 pm. I knew what I wanted to say, but I had put it off all day, avoiding what felt like a monumental task.

It is hard and a little bit scary to put yourself out into the world. To be seen.

And my focus was on recognition, feeling proud of myself for the small things I do as acts of self-love. You can read that post here.

When I looked at the clock, I realized I had been writing and formatting for longer than I would have liked. It was 4:15. I had a client at 5:20, and I needed to gather my things to head to my art studio.

It takes me about 25 minutes on public transit to reach my studio from my home. I rushed around, internally chastising myself for leaving everything too late.

Even though I had technically left on time, I would still only arrive about 20 minutes ahead of my client. My program director in grad school always underlined the importance of arriving early so that you can settle in before your clients arrive. On time is late, and I usually like to be in my studio a whole 40 minutes early.

I like being prepared. I like to look like I have everything all together.

But life isn’t always like that.

As I was on the bus heading to work, I realized I had left a pot simmering on the stove.

I already felt like I was going to just barely make it to work on time, and now I had to go back home and deal with this.

Disappointment and overwhelm started to fill me. I had just finished writing about how proud I was of myself and now I can’t even leave the house without forgetting something?

As the disappointment was creeping in, I found some clarity. Clarity that being mean to myself was not going to make my day any easier. I needed to approach my commute with some gentleness.

I hopped off the bus, got on one going the opposite direction, booked a car-share, stormed into my home, turned off the stove and then got in the car to drive downtown. I reminded myself that I had options. That I was resilient and I could get through this. On my drive, I practiced one of my favourite coping skills: a self-compassion break.

It goes like this:

Self Compassion Break by Dr. Kristin Neff

  1. Mindfulness: bring awareness to how you are feeling in the moment.

  2. Common humanity: recognize that you are not alone in your feelings, that other people have had similar experiences

  3. Kindness: what can you do to be kind to yourself at this moment?

I was feeling overwhelmed, disappointed and flustered.

I reminded myself that other people have felt this way before. Everyone has been late once in their lives. This feeling is understandable.

Guiding with gentleness allowed me to calmly navigate. Kindness looked like taking deep breaths as I drove to work.

I arrived at my office only 10 minutes before the start of my session. And my clients were already waiting outside - the worst case scenario. They would witness my mistake!

I expected to feel embarrassed, but the self-compassion break offered me some gentleness and acceptance of my scenario. Instead of profusely apologizing and rushing into my session, I just started with “I’ve been on a little bit of an adventure!”, and took some time preparing the room for the start of work.

And that was it.

I went about my day as normal. This simple acknowledgement that I was overwhelmed was enough to help me reorient myself to the things I could control. To offer myself kindness and gentleness.

It has taken me a long time to get here. I used to try to motivate myself with internal criticism, striving towards unrealistic expectations in order to prove myself. Sometimes I still do this, but in practicing self-compassion, I have learned that telling myself I am a bad therapist for being (subjectively) late isn’t going to make me a better therapist. I have learned that I can take responsibility for my actions without letting regrets consume me.

I am just a human, and I make mistakes and that’s ok.

Have you ever tried the self-compassion break method before? Do you think it could be helpful in your own life?

Here are 4 gentle statements for inviting self-compassion into your life:

May I be kind to myself.

May I learn to forgive myself.

May I be patient.

May I accept that mistakes are part of life. These mistakes do not define me.


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