Support for changing times and giving yourself the gift of self-compassion
As a psychotherapist in Washington, DC who works mostly with adolescent girls, women in their 20s/30s and perinatal women, many of my sessions have been focused on Roe v. Wade being overturned.
After the ruling came out, I went to get coffee near my house in Northwest DC. I overheard many conversations focused on the ruling. Most conversations expressed dismay but there were also conversations that were in support of Roe v. Wade being overturned. While markedly different in their perspectives, they all shared one commonality – that many people are experiencing intense and raw emotions.
Since the ruling, the news, social media and day-to-day conversations have been largely focused on where individuals and groups stand. I’ve been reflecting on how challenging this moment is for so many people. When we have strong feelings that clash with others it can feel uncomfortable and painful. This is especially true amongst friends, colleagues, or family members.
In challenging moments, I am reminded of the importance of self-compassion. I recently attended a training with Dr. Kristin Neff who has done a lot of seminal work on self-compassion. She describes the act of self-compassion as like the compassion you extend towards a friend or another person when they are going through something difficult.
The first step in developing self-compassion is simply noticing that you are going through something difficult, thinking about how you can comfort and care for yourself in this moment. Neff says that people who are self-compassionate are gentle with themselves when experiencing life challenges. Instead of trying to ignore your feelings it can be helpful to sit with your feelings about the falling of Roe v. Wade. Neff shares that “…experiencing life difficulties is inevitable and common across humanity.” By acknowledging that all individuals have their own feelings on the ruling we can begin to experience greater emotional equanimity. It is important to note that this does not happen overnight but rather it is a gradual process.
The second part of self-compassion is the recognition that we often feel alone and isolated when things do not go as planned or how we wanted. This can make us feel like we are the only one suffering. Neff encourages us to recognize that all humans suffer and that “…the very definition of being ‘human’ means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is a part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to me ‘alone’.” Many of my patients have found this a helpful reference point when they are thinking about others who have different views regarding Roe v. Wade.
The final step in self compassion is mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as being in the present moment and noticing your feelings and thoughts as they are without trying to suppress or deny them. By doing this we can recognize the pain we are experiencing and feel compassion for our suffering. At the same time, Neff argues, mindfulness enables us to practice not being ‘over-identified’ with our thoughts and feelings so that they do not take over. Again, this is not something that happens overnight, but takes time to build through practice.
Regardless of your position – I hope that you can practice self-compassion and work on noticing your thoughts and feelings. Some things that can be helpful during this trying time include:
- Go on a social media or news break. In 2022, we are constantly flooded by different perspectives, and this can cause a lot of agitation as well as overstimulation. In particular, I always recommend to my patients that they try to shut-off their access to social media/news two hours before bed.
- Go on a mindful walk – use your five senses to be in the moment – what do you smell, what do your feet feel like on the ground, is there anything new that you haven’t noticed before? If possible, try to leave your phone at home. Engaging in physical activity is wonderful for releasing energy created by stress.
- Talk with friends or family members who can provide you with support in whatever way you need. For some people this might mean validating your experience and talking about shared perspectives. For others this might mean just enjoying a friend’s company and doing something that distracts you from the current events.
- Take action – in whatever way is meaningful for you. Donate to organizations that support your perspective, go to protests, canvas for the political party that you support. Often, we feel powerless in the face of such big issues. When we take action, we change that narrative.
- Seek professional help from a therapist. The ruling has brought up past traumas for many people – including those who’ve had abortions, struggled with infertility, terminated a pregnancy for medical reasons, had miscarriages or still births. A therapist can help you process these traumas and provide you with the support you need to get through this challenging time. You can also work with a couples or family therapist to help you manage conflicting perspectives on the ruling.
- Visit Dr. Kristin Neff’s website for a number of self-compassion guided practices and exercises. Self-Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff