What is Self-Compassion?

There’s this misconception that exists lumping self-esteem and self-compassion as one in the same. Self-esteem is often labeled as how we think about ourselves (often in comparison to others) and self-compassion is different; it’s how we treat ourselves. We might feel good about ourselves but what happens when you make a mistake? Think about a lofty goal you set for yourself recently. Did you reach it? If not, what was the language you used in your head? How did you treat yourself? For example, let’s say you’re a runner and your goal was to beat your time on an upcoming race. Race day comes and you don’t beat your time; in fact, it’s slower than you’ve ever run. In that moment, the wheel of negative thoughts might be circling in your head: “I failed,” “I knew I couldn’t do it,” “I’m too old/slow/fat, etc.”

Recently I listened to this TedTalk by Kristin Neff: where she talks about the three core components to self-compassion. Those components are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. When I think about self-compassion for myself and for the adolescents I work with this idea of common humanity really stands out. Common humanity is essentially the principle of knowing you are not alone. You are not the only one with anxiety, depression, frustration, hurt, disappointment.

In stark contrast, self-criticism does two things (among others). First, self-criticism releases high levels of cortisol to make you feel stressed and second, self-criticism leads to isolation. Self-criticism makes you believe that you don’t deserve to be around others and thus does the opposite of what is most needed in that moment. Self-criticism fuels one of the most vulnerable human emotions which is shame.

So what can be done to help our children and ourselves? I think the first step is to think about self-kindness being the words you would use to talk to a close friend. If your friend didn’t beat her goal time in the race, would you say to her “I knew you couldn’t do it.” No you wouldn’t. You’d probably sense her feelings of disappointment and might say something along these lines, “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed about your time but think about all the ways you prioritized your training runs and what an accomplishment that was.”

Particularly for adolescents who developmentally are so focused on peer relations, teaching self-kindness through the mindset of “what would you tell a friend” can have a huge impact in shifting their negative thoughts away from self-criticism and more towards self-compassion. Rachel Simmons offers some valuable insights about how teaching self-compassion can help stressed out teens in her article here:

Know of a teen struggling with self-criticism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Summer Reading Recommendation #2

Have you heard of the Stress Olympics? If not, I encourage you to pick up Rachel Simmons newest book Enough as She Is and read Chapter 7 which talks about perfectionism and the rise of the stress culture. Chances are if you're reading this and you have young kids you've heard something similar to the following:

Kid 1: "I bet I can throw the ball farther than you."

Kid 2: "Oh yeah well I can throw the ball farther and do it with my eyes closed."

This "one-upping" of each other happens early in childhood and yet Rachel Simmons notices that it's happening in an unhealthy way in high school. The example she gives in her book goes something like this:

Student 1: "I'm so tired. I only slept five hours last night."

Student 2: "Yeah well I'm so tired because I have 2 tests and got 2 hours of sleep."

Student 3: "You think that's bad. I pulled an all-nighter and have 3 tests today."

There's this growing sense of pride that is associated with being "soooooo stressed" and "soooo tired." The Stress Olympics then breeds this culture of busyness where if you aren't tired and stressed, you must not be working hard enough. What is the solution then?

Let me offer a few thoughts. First of all, unfortunately the Stress Olympics is part of a larger problem with our society valuing and praising being busy and although that is not something one parent can solve, below are some helpful tips in working with your child:

1. Validate the feeling and dig deeper. "Wow it sounds like you are feeling stressed. I wonder what other feeling you can identify as well?" This allows your child to tap into their feelings vocabulary. Is it an exciting stress like the week before a big performance? Is it an overwhelmed stress such as writing college application essays? Is it a fearful stress because chemistry is really confusing?

2. Take small steps. The most common "type" of stress I hear and see in my work is the overwhelmed kind so I work with students on creating timelines and breaking larger assignments and tasks into more manageable chunks. The part of the brain responsible for planning and organization is the prefrontal cortex which is still developing in adolescents so they need strategies on how to break larger tasks down. You might say, "Okay so let me check to see if I heard you. Your research paper for history is due in a month and it's between 10-12 pages and worth a lot of points. Is that right? What do you think is your first step in tackling a large assignment like that?"

3. Provide coaching about healthy coping skills. "Wow it does seem like you have a lot on your plate right now. It's important to balance study time with time for yourself. What ideas do you have for how you might balance work and fun?" Questions like these help coach students to tap into healthy coping skills such as playing basketball, taking the dog for a walk, baking, etc. If your child is receptive to your coaching, provide an example of an activity that helps you. "I know that at work before a big meeting I take a 5 minute stroll around the block to clear my head and that helps. I wonder if there's something similar that might work for you?"

Looking for help with time management and relaxation strategies? Contact me and I'd be happy to work with your student.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Helping Adolescents Find Balance

I think back to the days in which I grew up- days where homework only took an hour or two, social time consisted of riding bikes down the street or hanging out in someone's backyard, and stress seemed like a word that only applied to grown-ups. Sure I remember the feelings of worry and unease in high school before taking the SAT and how anxious I felt awaiting college acceptance letters but as I reflect on my experience I can only pinpoint a few times when I felt truly stressed.

I contrast that feeling with students today. The feelings of anxiety and stress start in elementary school and sometimes by the time high school arrives these feelings are crippling. My work on helping adolescents find balance centers around mindfulness practices. When students or adults are in their thoughts and their heads are spinning, they are disconnected from their bodies. Mindfulness allows students to come out of their heads and feel what's going on in their bodies at the moment. 

Listening to music, journaling, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are all tools that can help adolescents become mindful of how their thoughts affect their bodies. Start out small with 5 minutes a day devoted to drawing, listening to a meditation, journaling, etc. and then slowly increase until 30 minutes before bedtime you're engaging in a mindfulness practice. Not sure where to start? That's where I can help!

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

"Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, that is the best season of your life." ~ Wu Men

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman