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Self Compassion: A Process of Nurturing Oneself While Nurturing Your Child

www.thegraymatternews.com | December 3, 2023

Parents can often become so preoccupied with taking care of their children and fulfilling their responsibilities that they often neglect their own needs whereby self-care and their psychological distress goes unaddressed.

Every parent wants to offer their child the best of everything. But parenting is not a walk in the park, even though there are a lot of park visits involved in it. Whether you have a village of your own in your parenting journey or are doing it without much of support, are a working professional or a stay-at-home parent, possessing resources of emotional and practical support in your life or not, it is a huge accountability on the parents. As a parent, you become responsible for a whole new being apart from yourself. While each child comes with their temperament, set of needs, quirks, and idiosyncrasies, some children require more care and attention than others, particularly children with disabilities.

Children may be born with a disability or acquire it later in life and may experience impairments that cause physical, sensory, psychological, or intellectual challenges ranging from mild to severe. These problems are further exacerbated if they interact with a surrounding environment that is not equipped to accommodate their needs or discriminate against them based on an existing conception of what is “normal” and the internalized stigma surrounding it. It can be difficult for children to be in such situations and stressful for those who care for them.

Parenting has usually been considered falling squarely in the woman’s domain, but in recent decades a happy trend has been observed of fathers beginning to play a more significant role in active child-rearing practices apart from contributing financially. They are spending more time with their children, engaging in shared activities, and are in general becoming more collaborative with mothers in raising their offspring. When raising a child with a disability, there may certainly be more pressure on parents who may experience caregiver burden, the physical or psychological stresses, and strains borne by a person who cares for someone who has different needs. Research shows that parents with children with developmental disabilities experience more stress and depression than parents with children without them (Ahmed & Raj, 2023).

This is where the concept of self-compassion comes in. Parents can often become so preoccupied with taking care of their children and fulfilling their responsibilities that they often neglect their own needs whereby self-care and their psychological distress goes unaddressed. They forget to be kind to themselves. Instead, they may criticize themselves, feel like they are not doing enough for their child, or feel helpless, isolated, and unworthy. In the Indian context where there is internalized stigma about both mental illness as well as disability, they may experience guilt, feel sad, be worried, experience fatigue, embarrassment, resentment, and even anger. (Kumar et al, 2022; Jaiswal et al, 2018)

If you are a parent/caregiver and can relate to this, you are not alone. Dr. Kristin Neff, the researcher who pioneered the concept of self-compassion, states in her 2011 book 'Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself' that the practice of self-compassion is what helped her deal with what she calls the “greatest challenge” in her life - raising a son on the autism spectrum.

"I freely admit that at times, the experience pushed me into self-pity. When at the park with Rowan, for instance, watching other moms with their "normal" kids, I would start to feel very sorry for myself. Why can't I have a normal child?… I would start to feel isolated, alone, cut off from the world of "normal" families. I found myself internally screaming, "Having children is not supposed to be this way! This is not the plan I signed up for! Why me?" But luckily self-compassion saved me from going too far down this path."

So, what is self-compassion? It is essentially about treating yourself like you would a good friend who is going through a difficult time. According to Neff, it entails the following components:

Mindfulness: Become aware and acknowledge your feelings without judgment. This could sound like: "Parenting is hard!" or "This really hurts" or "I feel overwhelmed right now"

Common humanity:
Recognize that you are not alone and that suffering is a part of the shared human experience. For example: "I know I feel like I am failing, but lots of parents are probably struggling like me"

Use supportive, warm, and encouraging words towards yourself, like you would to a friend: "Losing my patience doesn't make me a bad parent. I'll try to be more mindful next time"

Studies indicate that parents with children with developmental disabilities who have undergone self-compassion interventions show better self-care and lower stress levels, reduced depression, and internalized stigma. Self-compassion can also serve as a protective factor against parenting stress among parents of children with or without psychological disorders.(Ahmed & Raj, 2023; Colette et al, 2023)

You may be thinking "I'm just too busy to take care of myself" or "It's selfish to take time for myself, I should focus on my child", keep this in mind: you don't need to feel guilty for prioritizing your mental health. Moreover, taking care of yourself does not have to be a time-consuming exercise. It takes different forms depending on your needs right from taking a tea or coffee break, to delegating a task, sharing your feelings with a loved one, saying no to an obligation, or claiming 15 minutes of solitude to collect yourself. Counterintuitively, prioritizing your self-care can give you better mental space that will in turn saveyou time while completing your daily tasks and responsibilities.

Here are some exercises you can start with to practice self-compassion:

1. Take a self-compassionate break. The next time you are in a difficult situation and feel overwhelmed or unhappy, pause and say something akin to 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" This encapsulates all three components of self-compassion.

2. Get in the habit of checking in with yourself at different times during the day: Ask yourself: "How do I feel? What do I need right now?" This will help you become more mindful of your emotions and address your current needs.

3. Write a paragraph about a situation or aspect of parenting where you feel insecure or "not good enough". Now address a letter to yourself from an imaginary and unconditionally loving friend, writing words of comfort, support, and encouragement.

4. If you are finding it difficult to communicate to yourself with kindness, simply go back to the question of how you would treat a friend who is going through a hard time and then treat yourself the same way.

Self-compassion is something you can start practicing right here, right now, in private, or in a crowded room, and it doesn't cost you anything. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup; if you are constantly spent, spread thin, and running out of fuel, you won't be of much help to yourself or your child. Every parent wants their child to receive the best of everything. So offer them the best of you as a parent by recognizing that to be there for them, it is important to take care of yourself as well.

This article has been co-authored by Prof. Ketoki Mazumdar, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University and Debanjali Saha, Ph.D Scholar Student, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://thegraymatternews.com/article/self-compassion-a-process-of-nurturing-oneself-while-nurturing-your-child-by-debanjali-saha-and-dr-ketoki-mazumdar )