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  • Melissa Sims

Encouraging Self-Compassion

Is the term “self-care” being overused?

Our team blog last week was one of our most read blogs to date, so I wanted to be sure that I communicated to you what the topic was, so you can keep a finger on the pulse of your staff. It was all about self-care and how we may need to reframe our idea of what that actually means. With the staggering statistics in the use of social media, we really felt this was a topic that needed attention.

We had a session recently in which we asked the attendees, “who do you turn to for advice or when you don’t know the answer to something?” An overwhelming majority responded: TIK-TOK. I think that mild use of technology for the purpose of information is great. However, are we positive that the information we are getting there is accurate? Over a quarter of US Adults under the age of 30 are getting their “news” from Tik-Tok. With the content of this platform being user-generated, a lot of falsehoods, misunderstandings, and misperceptions are bound to be a problem. Enter: self-care.

I don’t know how this has happened, but self-care has turned into what it is not: a way to do the bare minimum with a “valid reason.” We have people taking extended breaks from work, showing up late, showing up half awake, being incredibly unfocused, etc. - all in the name of self-care. We are staunch advocates for mental health, and know that there are obviously real instances where we need a mental health day. However, this has turned into somewhat of a trendy excuse for not keeping up with responsibilities.

What I touched on for the teams was that we may need to reframe our ideas of self-care, and start to focus on self-compassion as a foundation for it. And perhaps reflect on what is going on in our lives to necessitate so much focus on the topic to begin with. I truly believe that society has an obsession with this because we have an inability to cope, even with the small stuff. We can blame it on a lot of things, namely the pandemic, but I think this probably started well before then. Prior to the shutdowns, we were likely overworked and overwhelmed but didn’t realize it until we were forced to just STOP. That reprieve from the routine gave us time to pause and reflect, and to look at our lives that we had been living. We were not taking care of ourselves as well as we could have. In the constant GO, GO, GO, most of us never really took that time to stop and say “what do I need right now?”

Now that life is returning to some sense of normalcy, we are faced with the fact that we may not want to return to the time when we were too busy to take care of ourselves. I suspect this is what is happening with workers across the globe. A resistance to responsibility and hesitancy to return to the busy-ness. Unfortunately, we can’t simply stop the parts of life we don’t really “enjoy” in the name of self-care. That’s not how it works. We must be able to interject self-care into our every day routines…not skip out on our routines altogether because we are burned out. We have to be able to help our staff, and ourselves, avoid burnout in the first place.

How do we do that? Encourage self-compassion.

Compassion is defined as a basic kindness with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it. Self-compassion as defined by one of the pioneering researchers in this field, Kristin Neff, is compassion directed inward, relating to oneself as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering. (Resource)

How can we help others to be more self-compassionate? Modeling. You can think of the two terms this way: self-care is the doing, while self-compassion is the being. Regarding yourself with compassion, and caring for yourself are quite different. You can do self-care without truly having compassion for yourself. Unfortunately, we tend to use the terms interchangeably, and end up replacing self-compassion with self-care. The problem here is that you must truly have self-compassion first, as a fundamental foundation, before you can practice meaningful self-care. And if you can model this behavior, and have empathy for your staff especially in the instance of mistakes, those around you will feed off of that energy and begin understanding just how important self-compassion can be.

When we all (co-workers, staff, YOU) learn to be kinder to ourselves, and treat ourselves with compassion, we are building a foundation to improve coping skills, diminishing the need for “extra” self-care. That compassion IS the self-care. If there is no foundation of self-compassion, the concept of self-care (a spa day, brunch instead of work, etc.) becomes a band-aid that doesn’t address the true problem: coping with day to day stressors. If we are trying to convince ourselves that we are checking off the “self-care” box, it isn’t fulfilling, and can in fact become burdensome as we try to keep up with the most current self-care trends we see online.

When we understand that self-compassion comes first, we can practice self-care without missing out on the important parts of our lives, like our responsibilities at home and at work. In fact, when we are truly compassionate, we can take pride in our responsibilities and have a sense of accomplishment - which is a better “box” to check off anyway, right? Self-care becomes part of our daily routine, because we aren’t ignoring these needs. It boils down to truly believing that we deserve compassion.

I recommended in the team blog that some self-reflection in the coming weeks could be a good idea. I think that should apply to you as well. Are you using self-care in a way that is masking the issue at hand? Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your staff and co-workers? We can’t expect those around us to behave in a way we aren’t. Truly believing that you deserve self-compassion, as well as those around you, can help you build upon your self-care practice.


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