While I was growing up my parents would frequently tell me it was “important to treat other people the way you would want to be treated.” Many of us know that wise advice as the “Golden Rule.” Years later, while teaching stress management classes, I began sharing my “Silver Rule.” This is a slight variation on the earlier well-known phrase. The modification of the guiding principle encourages us to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as we would be to someone we love who’s in a similar situation. Show kindness to ourselves when we are less than perfect? Who knew that would be such a challenge! Many of us have pretty harsh inner critics that raise voices loud and clear when we say, do or think something that we regret, such as:
“What a stupid thing to say?"
"Why can’t I be more…”
Those thoughts can also accompany our feelings about being a caregiver or a patient with cancer. Has your inner voice ever said anything similar to “why are you feeling sorry for yourself when so many people have it so much worse?” or “I shouldn’t have complained about my cancer. No one really wants to hear about it anyway.” I’m using those examples because I have heard both of them, but there are so many other situations that we could just as easily name.
The silver rule, or showing self-compassion, would have us respond to ourselves in a kinder, more supportive way. For example, think of someone you love dearly. Now imagine they just did or said the same thing you are berating yourself for saying or doing. How would you respond to them? Would you use the same words and tone that your inner critic just used on yourself? Probably not. Take a moment and think about how you feel when you are harshly chastised versus when you are accepted as someone who is human, but may have made a mistake. Which one of those responses leads to a better outcome?
This week one of the chaplains at Mayo Clinic spoke to us about this topic. She encouraged us to take a self-compassion break when we are experiencing stressful situations and directed us to a website of Dr. Kristin Neff: https://self-compassion.org/. When we are experiencing challenging problems, the following three steps are helpful to give ourselves a self-compassion break:
Old habits are hard to break, but it is possible. The first step is recognizing that change can happen and it will lead to a healthier, kinder future. As with all change, it takes awareness and practice. Are there ways you have started being more self-compassionate? We’d love to hear your experiences.