I learned about mindful self compassion from a two day PD with one of the co-founders Christopher Germer who was presenting a core skills training for coaches and therapists with my friend and colleague Kathleen Cator. I use the MSC skills a lot in Life and Leadership Coaching and Counselling sessions and when teaching mindfulness based stress reduction. But it's been really helpful in parenting my four children and navigating the teenage years, mental health and habits that promote wellbeing and connection between our family members. It's an absolute joy when you see your own children beginning to take on the practices you model.
It's really great for parents to learn self-compassion because they can often be hard of themselves and are faced with multiple challenges as their children grow up. I don't think there is a mum alive who hasn't experienced mother's guilt when dropping her kids off at day care when she heads to work or a father who feels bad about having to work back late again and the kids are asleep by the time he gets home.
Parenting challenges require good leadership, responsibility and ability to eventually see your child as a human who is becoming their own person and independent of you. Ultimately you want your children to be empowered and confident to make choices and decisions on their own while still being connected to the family values, rituals and beginning to contribute meaningfully to your wider community.
A sense of agency is particularly important during the teenage years when the foundational ground work you've done before plays out in their social lives. Attachment patterns from early childhood are the basic blueprints for connection and how they relate to themselves, others and the world around them but self compassion can bring insight and ease to even the most anxious attachment. In counselling I am finding self-compassion skills are great for working with teenagers and youth when they find they are going into battle with negative bias, fear-based rumination and the critical judgemental mind and being strongly identified with this part of the human psyche.
Parents can also begin practicing self compassion themselves and by doing so introduce a self compassionate lens to their children and teens through casual conversations about things that matter to them. I also encourage parents to take important self-care time for themselves so they are resourced to manage the basic needs of the children but also have something left to enjoy a blossoming relationship with your children as they grow into adolescent. Perhaps you don't think they need you so much when they become a teenager but if you've got a good foundation for a relationship they will come to you for advice and to reflect even during these rapidly changing years. Self compassion is a great way for parents to practice listening to their teens struggles while giving them the space to navigate them.
What is Self Compassion?
Self compassion is made of three main elements; self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. So as you can see mindfulness is a big part of it already. In traditional mindfulness pathways like MBSR, compassion is considered a natural blossoming of the heart in the face of human suffering. Let's look more closely at the self-compassion elements.
Self Kindness - Involves being warm and gentle with ourselves as we would a dear friend, especially when there is suffering, criticism, fear or failure. When we experience something painful in life we go easy on ourselves we try to add to it by just taking things slowly and carefully. Listen to your needs with tenderness and soothing affection.
Common Humanity - Being human means you're going to experience suffering one way or another, it's unavoidable. Life is imperfect, we're born vulnerable and the whole experience is impermanent. We all experience loss at some point in our lives, yet when we do we may think why always me? The common humanity of self-compassion is seeing that personal shortcomings and suffering is part of the shared human experience.
Mindfulness - Mindfulness is a way of seeing things in the present moment that is open and aware and seeing that our negative thoughts or positive thoughts are part of a larger way of being human than just our individual self. In mindfulness we are not overly identified with personal thoughts and emotions but rather hold them in awareness, compassion and equanimity.
How do you get started?
I recommend checking out the Self-Compassion Practices by Kristen Neff and you may even like to read her new book Fierce Self-Compassion which I think would be a great book for women looking to be more protective of their energy by actively asserting boundaries. Also helpful for teenage girls!
Our next women's circle on November 12th will be exploring Relating with Self Compassion. Discover activities, talks and practices in a safe and welcoming group os sisters who meet monthly. To find out more check out the website and register.