About a month ago, I was leaving my son’s end-of-season banquet for his ski team. It was late and cold. As we made our way through the parking lot, I saw a mom struggling to get her 3-year-old in the car. He was having a big tantrum – stomping his ski boots, crying, yelling – the whole bit.
As I walked by, she recognized who I was, and said, “Well, I bet this never happens at your house.” In that moment, my heart broke a little bit. Because, of course, that has happened at my house. I am no stranger to the tumultuous and emotional whims of family members.
I actually remember when my son was about 6 and my daughter was 8, having a bit of a parking lot meltdown of my own.
Unbeknownst to me, my son had decided at 7 am to “do a science experiment” and pulled out the vinegar, baking soda, whipping cream and other essential ingredients for some kind of explosion he envisioned. I got out of the shower, ready to take them to school only to find: a disaster of a kitchen, two kids dressed in shorts and t-shirts on a –4 degree day, and a breakfast that had consisted basically of just whipped cream…
In the sugar-buzzed car ride to school, the kids argued over which radio station to listen to. The fighting escalated, and, as I was walking them across the school parking lot, I started to lose it. I grabbed both their arms and yelled at them to stop bickering.
Just as I finished my tirade, a cherub-faced first grader, who was quietly walking into school holding her mom’s hand, points to me and says, “Look, mommy, it’s the mindfulness lady”. Needless to say, I was beyond mortified. And launched into my own silent barrage of self-judgment and self-criticism.
When I saw that frustrated mom in the ski banquet parking lot (with the screaming toddler), and I said to her, “We’ve all been there,” I meant it. Myself included!
As mothers, we are pretty self-critical.
And some of what we say to ourselves, we would never say to our girlfriends. We expect ourselves to be superwomen – able to leap tall buildings all while excelling in our careers; rearing decent human beings; serving on boards and committees of every activity and cause; taking care of endless family scheduling minutiae; and, at the last minute, still throwing together the perfect baked good for the next fundraiser.
We encourage being kind to others, and, then, we turn right around and drill sergeant ourselves into the fetal position for the smallest, most human infraction.
Compassion is in our nature. It’s not something we have to learn. It’s part of the tend and befriend neural system that helps us partner up with a spouse, raise our children and thrive in community with each other.
But self-compassion? That seems to be a little harder to come by.
According to researcher Dr. Kristen Neff, the definition of self-compassion can be boiled down to just treating ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend – or even a stranger (in a parking lot!), for that matter.
Here are a few tips on how to increase your own self-compassion (mine too!):
1) Use your mindful awareness with kindness
Dr. Neff has found mindfulness to be a core component to increasing one’s self-compassion. Acknowledge what’s going on rather than immediately powering through. It’s ok to say to yourself, this is hard. This is painful. Give yourself permission to have self-compassion for whatever you are struggling with.
2) Remember that we all have bad days
Every.Single.One.Of.Us. When you scroll through your Facebook feed, step out of compare and despair. You’re comparing your worst day to someone’s highlight reel. Instead of feeling bad, you could choose to feel connected, knowing that nobody goes through life unscathed. We’re all connected in this human experience and it’s probably not all rainbows and unicorns at your neighbor’s house, either.
3) Think about how you would treat a close friend
Would you tell her how fat she is or how inadequate she is as a parent or partner? Probably not. So if you wouldn’t say it to someone else, catch yourself when you’re saying it to yourself.
4) Practice Loving Kindness
This is a great self-compassion meditation practice that you can do for yourself and also increase your compassion for others. Here’s a free download of a loving kindness meditation that I recorded for participants in my Mindfulness and the Workplace course.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion, besides just shutting up that awful commentary in your head for a little while:
The benefits are everything from decreased anxiety and cortisol to increased resilience and motivation. Yes, you read that last one correctly. We all think that if we’re self-compassionate, rather than self-critical, we’ll just end up in a puddle of warm gooey feelings or be in an endless pity party and never accomplish anything. In fact, the opposite is usually true.
People with self-compassion tend to bounce back better after a divorce, stick with a diet longer, sustain exercise habits and quit smoking easier. I’ll add that from my own personal field of research, it also helps us survive bad mornings with impromptu science experiments, parking lot toddler tantrums, and cope with mommy meltdowns better, too!
And the Mindful Life team
PS Happy Almost Mother’s Day to the moms in our community who are celebrating this weekend. Retreats make wonderful Mother’s Day presents – gift one to yourself or to your favorite Costa Rica or Colorado mindfulness retreat loving Mom! Our Mindful Life retreats are a beautiful way to practice both self-care and self-compassion. To sign up, click here. For questions about travel logistics, accommodations, the itinerary for either retreat, just reply to this email and, Cathryn, our retreat coordinator will get right back to you and tell you about all of the wonderful amenities and activities we have in store for you.