The Possibilities of Self-Compassion
What would happen if every day you went into work you thought of yourself as a fraud? You constantly had to search the faces of others to see if you’ve been “found out”? To see if they now know what you have believed about yourself for so long - that you are “punching above your weight class”, that you are in over your head, that you do not belong. How would it feel to spend entire days, jobs or a career not really knowing that you are good enough and integral to the work that needs doing? What does it do to your body, heart and mind when you carry so much stress and tension not just because of your workload, but from the burden of having no assurance from others at work because you have no self-assurance? What if this lack of awareness about your true value means you don’t speak up in meetings as often as you would like or that you screen yourself out of promotional opportunities and interesting projects? What if this mistrust in yourself cuts you off from your greatest gifts and your full potential?
Then it would be true…you are not good enough. Not because this is a certainty or even a fact, but because your perception is your reality. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, it does not need to be like this.
We’ve all had days like this…and jobs like this. Sometimes there is awareness of how we get in our own way and we have access to wisdom that lets us find a balance in how we view ourselves. Sometimes this is the price of admittance into work we love – the terrifying “stretch” we need to propel us further on our way (a trial by fire), allowing us to see what we are really made of (and feel good about it – in the end). Sometimes it is a trap that feeds a cycle of low self-esteem, holding us in place like a terrified rabbit. There is a “way out” of this cycle (whether you have been in it for days, weeks or years), but it requires you to do something you may not have considered before. Something you may not traditionally make time and space for at work. It requires you to be compassionate, with yourself. As you are sitting at work (maybe reading this blog) check in; how are you holding yourself right now? Are your muscles tense, poised to “act”, is your jaw set or relaxed? Is your neck strained, bent forward or is it gracefully holding your head up straight? How are your shoulders? Set…loose and upright or rounded forward and taut? How compassionate do you feel towards yourself in this very moment?
Those tight muscles mean that you are grinding your way through something, not giving yourself the compassion and breathing space you need - not indicating to others that you are worthy of their consideration because you are not considerate of yourself. How often do you acknowledge to yourself the contributions you are making? When we cannot do this for ourselves it is even less likely others will do it for us. Breathe. Stretch. Give yourself a moment of self-compassion and let your body relax for a full five minutes or more. It is this act, and the commitment to doing this for yourself several times throughout your day, that will bring more compassion into our workplaces. It starts with you. If you can’t give yourself a break then it is no surprise when others don’t consistently offer you one either; or maybe they do and you just can’t see it because you are being so hard on yourself or are so busy making everything work. Without this small break you are less able to acknowledge your good work, helping others to see it too (and in turn being better able to see the contributions of others…to acknowledge them).
In her book Unshakable Confidence, author and Psychotherapist Mare Chapman gives us this guidance for being aware and self-compassionate by giving ourselves permission to take mindful moments. Moments to breathe, stretch and relax tense muscles…accessing our self-compassion by asking ourselves these three questions (from page 106):
What beautiful gifts of compassion does this brief exercise hold for you?
If those gifts are not enough, consider this timely quote from Anne Lamott:
"Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen."
When we choose to be more self-compassionate we give ourselves permission to go to the most amazing places in life.
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