Sometimes it’s easier to take care of others than it is to take care of ourselves. Nowhere is this more true than with postpartum women.
How many times have I caught myself saying to a client, if you were only half as good at taking care of yourself as you are of others, you would feel better? How many women have looked back at me with tired eyes that seemed to say, “Really? I have nothing left to give.”
Recently I came across the work of Kristen Neff, Phd and her focus on self-compassion. Dennis Tirch also does this work, but Kristen’s “self-compassion breaks” resonated with our work with postpartum women.
Most postpartum women know only too well how little time there is, how little energy there is, how little room there is, for just one more thing to do. The list is long, the psychic reserve is low. Taking care of oneself is way at the bottom of the list of things to do, if it’s on there at all.
Still, common sense tells us, and research supports the notion that taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is essential to your well being and to your children’s well being.
So you must learn.
I want every new mother who is reading this to make a pledge to yourself. Out loud. Tell yourself you will practice this once a day, every day. If you do this, your brain will accommodate and learn to do it more automatically. For now, you just have to do it, over and over again, until it becomes a habit.
This self-compassion break is especially good for women who tend to be hard on themselves; Whose inner critic is loud, negative, and persistent; Women who are inclined to compare themselves to others, or judge themselves harshly or perceive their actions as inadequate.
Negative self-talk can lead to depression and depression can lead to more negative self-talk.Think of how you would respond if your child or your friend or your sister was beating herself up for something she didn’t do right or something she misinterpreted as her fault. Of course you would show compassion. It’s a human response when someone is suffering in some way. But many people forget that when it comes to their own suffering. Because their suffering isn’t as bad as everyone else’s suffering. Or, their suffering is worse than everyone else’s. Somehow, we never quite feel worthy of suffering. First we suffer. Then, we judge our suffering, then we suffer more. That’s not good.
The idea is to 1) Learn to identify and objectify your moment of suffering, 2) Normalize this suffering by remembering that suffering is part of the shared human experience. Everyone suffers. 3) Insert sound bites of compassion in an attempt to reinforce your sense of worthiness.
Suffering is suffering. It can be deep and profound depression or it can be feeling bad about yourself because you forgot to take care of something you thought was important. Regardless of the context or scope of the suffering, it is important that you learn to recognize some of your bad feelings as legitimate suffering.
First, Neff suggests you start with a physical posture where you cross your hands, one on top of the other, across your chest.
Then, sit and say the following phrases to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion that I need.
Take the time to do this every day (presuming there is some level of suffering in each day). This should be done whether you are experiencing depression, or not. Memorize the words. Practice. After a while, your brain will know how to help you better take care of yourself when you are overwhelmed or feeling defeated.
Neff's research showed that people who practiced these informal, brief meditative breaks were just as likely as others who meditated for longer period of time, to develop better self-compassion behaviors and thoughts.
Try it. You might really like how it feels.