Caring for Carers with Self-Compassion
Compassion in Caring
Giving and Receiving Compassion
In this module we will spend some time exploring compassion for you and the person you are caring for. Before we explore exactly what compassion is and what it isn’t we are going to start with a practice.
The first practice in this module is called Giving and Receiving Compassion. It’s a practice you can use when you’re sitting with someone, a loved one or a friend, who is struggling and you’re finding it difficult to be with their pain and suffering and there seems to be so very little you can do to alleviate that suffering and their struggle.
Giving and Receiving Compassion
Introducing a practice that you can use when you're sitting with a loved one or friend who is struggling and you find it really difficult to be with their pain.
Watch the video (left) as an introduction and then play the recording below to expand your understanding of the concepts.
What was the Giving and Receiving Compassion Practice like?
So how that was practice for you?
What did you notice? What did you feel?
I really want to hear any thoughts you’ve got about the practice, so please do let me know in the answers to the Module 3 feedback questions at the end of this module.
Let’s look at Compassion, Empathy and Pity
I think it might be helpful at this time to just remind ourselves of some key definitions. We can get confused between empathy, compassion and pity.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what someone else is experiencing.
I was taught that empathy is the ability to stand in someone else shoes and feel what they are feeling.
However, when we resonate with someone else who is in pain (i.e. we are physically and emotionally affected by the other persons’ pain), day in, day out, without taking care of ourselves, we can get overwhelmed and distressed.
When this happens, we may look for ways to avoid or reduce our own suffering by going into problem-solving mode (my tendency is to do this if I get too overwhelmed without taking care of myself sufficiently) or by tuning out the other person’s pain. (Of course there’s a place for problem solving when you’re a carer, it’s just that we can get too caught up in problem-solving and doing we can forget to ‘be’ with our loved one, to fully listen to them and validate their pain).
More About Compassion and Pity
Compassion is empathy that turns into love – a sense of tenderness and care that embraces the suffering of others rather than emotionally reacting to it. Compassion enables us to be with someone else’s pain without needing to push the pain away; with compassion we can care for the person who is experiencing the pain with gentleness and kindness.
Take, for example, a young child who is poorly in hospital. Who will be more comforting and supportive to the child, the mother who can stay by the child’s side, holding their hand and reassuring them with kind words or the anxious mother overcome with empathic distress who can’t bear to see her child so ill and who is walking up and down the corridor beside herself with worry?
But what about pity? Sometimes both compassion and empathy can be confused with pity.
Stephen Levine says pity is motivated by a sense of self-interest – you act to help someone because their suffering and discomfort makes you feel uncomfortable.
In pity there’s a sense of separateness, (how lucky am I not to be suffering like this or poor them, that’s so awful). In pity you are potentially seeing the person as being “less than,” and you being “’more than” … there’s less awareness of the common humanity aspect of two human beings meeting…. And when we pity someone we can become over-protective and quasi-paternal (I know what’s best for you).
Having read this information about empathy, compassion and pity, what do you think? Do let me know in this module’s feedback form.
Why You Need Self Compassion
For someone who is caring for a person with a life limiting illness you're already carrying the weight of caring and responsibility. You may also have other caring responsibilities you need to address. Watch this video and consider the importance of self compassion in building your coping resources and resilience.
Typically, we’re advised to practice self-care to alleviate carer fatigue.
What types of self-care activities do friends or family encourage you to do? Here are some examples:
Exercise – go to the gym, taking a walk, playing golf
Spend time with friends
Get a massage
While self-care is extremely important, there are limitations to these types of self-care strategies to deal with carer burnout and emotional fatigue.
The biggest limitation is that self-care tends to happen ‘off the job’ and doesn’t help us right in the middle of caring. iCare gives you a mix of ‘off the job’ self-care strategies (the longer meditations and practices) and ‘on the job’ strategies (e.g. The Pause, Compassion for Me, Compassion for You or Soothing Touch)
A benefit for the person you’re caring for…
Have you experienced being with someone who has a nervous, agitated way about them? How does that affect you?
What about the opposite - being with someone who is calm and peaceful?
Which one does it feel more relaxing and comforting to be with?
As you move through iCare and you start practising the meditations you are starting to learn to calm and soothe you own mind. This helps the person you’re caring for as they too will feel calmed and soothed through their own empathic resonance with you.
Caring for the Carer
Here the focus is on the carer, handling the pressures of caring for others while ensuring you care for yourself.
The adjacent video introduces the practice of ‘caring for the carer’. The practice below is one I like to use when I’m worried and stressed about caring for someone and I need some help and support.
Let me know which activities you’ve chosen in the Module One feedback form.
So, what was the Caring for the Carer practice like?
What did you notice? What did you feel?
Did you notice a shift as you said the phrases?
I really want to hear any thoughts you’ve got about the practice, so please do let me know in the Module 3 feedback form at the end of this module.
Remember to feel free to tailor the phrases so they feel authentic for you.
You're almost done with module 3
Before you go I’d encourage you to take a Pause right now. Instructions below.
Taking three conscious breaths – and asking yourself one of the following questions:
What is going on for me right now?
What sensations am I aware of in my body?
How am I feeling right now?
Then just notice how you feel emotionally or in your body.
That’s it - you’re not trying to change how you are feeling but with just three breaths you are creating a pause or a gap in the ongoing mental storyline that’s usually going on in our minds.
By pausing you are just simply being. Then go on with whatever you were doing.
Practice suggestions for the next 7 days:
Aim to practice at least twice this week the Caring for the Carers Practice as well as any other practice that calls to you.
Ideally also practice the Compassion for Me, Compassion for You practice both formally sitting/lying down and informally as a short practice when you’re with someone you are caring for. Be curious about how it is to practice this in the presence of someone.
Keep on using your soothing touch if that works for you.
Each day practice The Pause
Each day practice pausing (particularly when you are feeling stressed, irritable or upset) and asking yourself ‘What do I need right now?’ Or ‘What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?’
That’s it – another Module completed and only one to go.
I really hope you are beginning to get something from the programme. Well done for sticking with it and I really appreciate your commitment to learning more about self-compassion and building your own resilience.
I’ll see you back in seven days(ish) and don’t forget you’ll need to answer the Module Three questions below before you move on to Module Four.