Self-Compassion: The Key to Getting Through Grief
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ― Louise L. Hay
Grief is the process of acceptance. Acceptance happens when we let go of expectations. Expectations lead to resentment, which keeps us stuck in self-criticism. Self-criticism keeps us mired in the pain of grief. It is a cycle that hits us most when we are in the depths of despair.
When my incredible husband Peter died, I was drowning in an ocean of pain. I couldn’t catch my breath under the sea of sorrow I was experiencing. I couldn’t find my way to the top to breathe again. Even though I was surrounded by family and friends, I felt alienated. I was alone for the first time in my life, and the feelings of abandonment and loneliness overwhelmed me. I needed to unmask my self-compassion to help me through my journey.
Compassion is a feeling of wanting to help others who are suffering. Tenderness, kindness, sympathy, and understanding define compassion. I was an expert at being compassionate to others, but I found that I could not find the strength to be compassionate to myself. I was self-critical of my process. I found myself saying “I am not getting better fast enough,” or “I should be out and about by now.” I had to dangle the carrot of remembering that I was once happy to keep me going. I had to find the fortitude to believe I might be happy again. I had to self-visualize a pleasurable time ahead. I had to realize that I hadn’t lost control of my life. I had to understand that I had a choice to make. I alone could decide how grief was going to affect the rest of my life. I had to find the strength to believe that when confronted with loss, I knew I could survive.
Practicing self-compassion allows me to see that grief is the other side of the coin of love. I have loved deeply, and now I am grieving that loss. Therefore, I must somehow, and this is the tricky part, learn to accept the loss and pain, and be mindful of my process. I have to be careful to pace myself and not process all the pain at once. I have to be good to myself and take breaks watching drop-dead (okay, forgive the pun) funny movies like Blazing Saddles, and eating creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, I have to bring out the compassion in me, and shelve the critical Laurie who doesn’t allow for imperfection. I have to bathe in the understanding that I will have a tough road and the only path ahead needs to be strewn with the roses of compassion. I would never be harsh to a friend in pain, so I must remember to reverse the golden rule and “do unto myself, as I would do unto others.”
Self-esteem is all about being special, and better than others. Self-compassion is all about being ordinary, and sharing in others pain. Self-compassion is about being human, and frail, and accepting of all that it entails. When Peter and I had an argument, which wasn’t very often, one of us would quickly say, “mea culpa, it’s my fault.” We used to laugh at Jack Palance, in City Slickers, when he held up one finger, meaning the “one thing” that would indicate the meaning of life. Our “one thing” was admitting that neither of us had to be right. Believe me, that is no easy concept to pull off! Practicing forgiveness was hard to do on a regular basis, but it is why our marriage worked for so many years.
The knowledge that I am not alone in my suffering is immensely helpful. At first I looked in the mirror and saw the substantial sadness in my face. I felt isolated and was pissed off that others had perfect lives and now mine was defective and imperfect. But seeing my group members in the same pain, helped me to feel more connected with them and with life.
Part of learning self-compassion made me imagine myself as a skilled physician who would show me a soothing and gentle bedside manner. Hard to imagine these days, right? I had to train myself to embrace my spirit of survival.
The following tips will help you find a bit more self-compassion in your life:
· Speak to yourself à la Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones: “I like you, very much. Just as you are.”
· Treat yourself to retail therapy, lots of dark chocolate, or a massage!
· Make a list of all the good qualities you have and recite them as a mantra, but only to yourself!
· Try to make a list of what gifts of gratitude you have in your life, be it kids, grand kids, friends, or just a good haircut! Recent research indicates that being grateful is a mood booster.
· Treat yourself as you would your best buddy!
· Breathe! Get more oxygen to your brain by taking slow deep and calming breaths.
· Try thinking about how you have survived other tough times and will continue to survive grief.
· Instead of beating yourself up for not doing well, try using an imaginary reset button and believe you can persevere through it.
· Write your feelings down in a journal.
· Keep your expectations of yourself and others realistic. Be flexible. Ask how much it really matters, and do only what is within your capabilities.
· Step back, use perspective, and applaud your progress, and that means even the small steps.
· Don’t sweat the small stuff! After what you have endured, it is all small and meaningless crap!
· Say no to things you do not want to do! When I Say No, I Feel Guilty was a book that told volumes about this subject. This is the year of no. Hell, it’s the decade of no!
· If you want a break, take a break!
· Just because you feel bad, doesn’t mean you are bad! Stop blaming yourself.
· Cry if you need. Watch the show This is Us and sob. It’s cathartic.
· Be compassionate with others which will build up your self-esteem.
· Remove toxic friends from your life!
· Try to commit to a daily mantra of “my name is … and I really love you.”