By Wendy Johnstone

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“When you are compassionate with yourself, you trust in your soul, which you let guide your life. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny better than you do.” –John O’Donohue

Is it possible to treat ourselves with the same understanding and care in which treat our best friend or even a total stranger in need? How many of us carry the notion that being hard on ourselves will motivate us to make fewer mistakes or to act in a different way?
Dr. Kirsten Neff has researched self-compassion for decades. For caregivers, her definition includes showing self-kindness, like the way we would treat a friend. It’s giving ourselves, as caregivers, permission to meet our own needs rather than self-judging our perceived inability to cope. Dr. Neff encourages caregivers to see caregiving as a larger human experience and to know they aren’t alone. She also encourages caregivers to be mindful of feelings, especially the painful and negatives ones.  It’s about acknowledging that life is imperfect and to hold space and comfort for ourselves in the face of difficult times.

It turns out that when we are kind to ourselves or showing self-compassion, it leads to increased feelings of happiness, optimism, gratitude, and life satisfaction. It’s even linked to better coping and resiliency in the face of demanding life situations, such as caring for someone else.

For caregivers, self-compassion is shown to lead to more satisfaction caring for someone and decreases the chances of burnout. It helps deal with the grief or challenges by simply looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying, “This is hard right now. It’s only natural that I’m feeling sad or stressed.”

Gwyn Sproule has cared for her husband with Parkinson’s disease for over 10 years. She’s learning self-compassion every day. “I returned from a month-long trip in Asia. My husband is more diminished each time he comes back from respite, and I feel badly about that. But the fact is, he has a progressive disease and, no matter what I do or don't do, he will diminish. Making an effort to take care of my needs through work and travel helps me be a better caregiver and wife.”
Showing ourselves self-compassion isn’t an overnight fix. There is no magic. It takes practice and patience.

Dr. Neff has a website devoted to research, tips for self-compassion and a variety of practical exercises. She has one specifically for caregivers called, “Taking Care of the Caregiver.” For more information, please visit


may 2017 INSPIRED senior living


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