The quote my siblings and I chose for the front of my mom’s funeral service program was, “The fruit of love is service, which is compassion in action.” Mother Teresa
My mom’s ability to feel empathy, acceptance and deep compassion for those who suffered–particularly her patients–was deeply moving. One time when I was about twelve, I remember riding with my mom on a Saturday morning to visit an elderly man out in the country who was dying. A nursing consultant, she was “off the clock” but she wanted to see if there was anything she could do to make him or his wife more comfortable.
This was one of many times when she went out of her way to help others in need.
Yet, for all the compassion my sweet mom was able to find for her patients, her cupboard was bare when it came to finding compassion for herself. She was very critical and judgmental of her parenting, her work, her creative life and she frequently put herself down. This was hard to watch and hear and it made me want to forge a different path when I became a parent.
When my son entered middle school last year, our family created a Family Purpose Statement and highlighted the top five qualities that were most important to us. At the top of our list: kindness and compassion–to self and others. It felt really powerful to have taken the time to co-create this and post this where we all could see it (pick up a copy of my book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family to learn how to create your Family’s Purpose Statement).
At a recent retreat I led at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Wellness in the Berkshire Mountains, a mom from Amsterdam shared with our women’s group that her three year-old daughter calls herself “little sweetie.” The mom remarked, “I often hear her my daughter roaming around the house saying …it’s ok little sweetie, you’re tired …it’s ok, little sweetie, you need a snack and a drink.” Her young daughter simply knows no other way than to treat herself with loving kindness; she hadn’t been taught there was any reason she shouldn’t. (She inspired the rest of us to refer to ourselves as “little sweetie” for the duration of the weekend!)
I wonder what our collective culture might be like if we taught self-compassion as a sought after skill to be developed and honed–as equally valued as hard work and perseverance. Can you imagine hearing teachers and other influential mentors regularly remind their students and peers, “Be gentle with yourself” …..? (Read more about the science behind and benefits of cultivating self-compassion from my friend Dr. Kristin Neff.)
How do you begin to cultivate self-compassion?
1. Find and post a picture of yourself between ages 3-5 (a tender time) and see how this shifts your perspective and ability to be easy on yourself; you’re still that same little person!
2. Take a 30,000 foot view and find perspective: we’re all juggling so much: divorces, illnesses, parenting woes, career/life changes, work upheaval–give yourself a break. You have a lot going on and are doing the best you can. Sometimes we lose sight of all we’re navigating.
3. Reach out for support: have a heart to heart with a dear friend who holds the highest and best for you. A kind conversation can really help us loosen our hold on what’s “right or wrong” and help us see things with softer, gentler eyes.
4. Be inspired to model this for your children: if you’re a parent, instilling in your children to be kind to themselves can help them develop strong self-esteem, lower stress and heightened resiliency.
Sometimes when I notice I’m being hard on myself, I will take a long, slow deep breath, place my hands over the center of my chest and invite in self-compassion. When I can remember to soften and open my heart, it helps me see others in a whole new light. Compassion for others starts with compassion for myself.
TAKE ACTION: Curious about how your relationships and life might expand if you cultivated self-compassion? Busy and seeking inspiration and daily support from like-minded women? This Mother’s day, learn to mother yourself through my popular and easy to download The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal Online class (only $99), which I co-hosted with Hopeful World founder Jen Lemen. Together we create deep and lasting self-care ripples that can affect generations to come. P.S. New to our community? View all our services/offerings here.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance teacher/author and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Offering speaking, custom workshops, training, books/telecourses and individual coaching focusing on self-renewal for women, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-care groups based on her award-winning curriculum. She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 13 year-old son. More on her background here.